I am thrilled that Pakistan will be playing in India. I’m thrilled that this format allows an India-Pakistan encounter. Obviously, it’s something any cricket fan would look forward to. This is the World Cup and not a bilateral series, so it’s extra special.
On Sunday, November 19, 2023, two teams will face each other at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, India. The winner will lift the 2023 Cricket One Day International (ODI) World Cup (Men). By then, eight teams would have been eliminated.
Fans of all competing countries would hope their heroes will still be taking the field that day, regardless of what the ranking and the form sheets say. They may or may not have a backup team to cheer for if their team doesn’t make it that far.
Meanwhile, the organisers, concerned about profits, would no doubt love to see an India-Pakistan final. The rivalry, political tensions and the sheer number of fans from the two countries would be the dream outcome for the ICC.
A Sri Lankan perspective
I am Sri Lankan. Obviously, I want Dasun Shanaka’s boys to tear the form book to shreds, but Sri Lanka is not among the favourites. No one is even calling them the dark horse. Rank underdogs would be the appropriate tag.
So when I think of the much talked about glorious uncertainties of cricket, I console myself in the knowledge that any team can have a bad day in the office, and that Sri Lanka could probably beat any of the other nine competing teams at least twice in a 10-match series, and hope that it’s one of those two days.
Come the 19th of November, we will all know. Speaking strictly for myself, I would like a Sri Lanka vs Bangladesh or Afghanistan final (I like underdogs). My second preference: Sri Lanka vs India or Pakistan. In the unlikely event that Sri Lanka will not make it to the final (yes, I’m a diehard fan), I would like two of the following teams to play that day: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. If not me, then my neighbour, my brother, my cousin, someone in the family or a friend. I’m like that.
Overall there are five South Asian teams competing for the World Cup, out of 10. For me, that’s a lot to cheer for. Tons of consolation scenarios (in the unlikely event that Sri Lanka doesn’t go all the way to win it all).
Pakistan vs India
Regardless. I am thrilled that Pakistan will be playing in India. I’m thrilled that this format allows an India-Pakistan encounter. Obviously, it’s something any cricket fan would look forward to. This is the World Cup and not a bilateral series, so it’s extra special.
Pakistan and India have played each other on 134 occasions, Pakistan winning 73 to India’s 56 with five ending with no result or ties, I’m not sure. India and Pakistan are ranked No 1 and No 2 in ODIs right now. Rankings do indicate relative strengths and form but again we have those glorious uncertainties.
Pakistan in particular have a reputation for swinging between the amazing and abysmal. A close game or a one-sided affair, we really cannot tell. This doesn’t detract from the adrenaline rush that their encounters usually produce. These are two very good teams, each packed with multiple match-winners.
That’s about the cricket. India and Pakistan, whether we like it or not, are countries which, when bracketed together, make people go ‘Uh oh!’ That’s politics. And the politically inclined or even fixated will, again whether we like it or not, talk about the match-up as though it’s part of a war. The invective and self-righteousness expressed on social media platforms is indicative enough.
For me, as a Sri Lankan, it’s mind-boggling. It’s probably the same for many cricket lovers from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, the sixth South Asian cricketing nation.
The players carry the weight of each country’s expectations, but the Pakistan team don’t appear to be carrying extra baggage on account of such concerns. That’s thanks to the Indian fans. The vast majority, at least those on the streets and not necessarily hammering keyboards, seem deaf to the political noise. They’ve welcomed the Pakistan team with the kind of warmth that makes us wonder what borders and boundaries really are, what they are said to contain and what is clearly uncontainable.
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There’s something beautiful about borders being rendered irrelevant. To me, it speaks of community and solidarity where people momentarily perhaps recognise the true worth of a cricketer. It’s when both the hero and the fan find their respective national flags retired.
This is not to say there won’t be those who, if their team falters, won’t find consolation in some ‘enemy team’ being bested. In Sinhala, we call this ‘Kaalakanni sathuta’ which could be translated as ‘miserable joy.’ I like to believe that such people are a minority.
Before the big day, 47 matches will have been played. Half the games will feature at least one South Asian team. The final may very well feature two non-South Asian teams. In such a situation, I would shelve all disappointments and find something that’s more than ‘consolation’ in enjoying the cricket. I’d be backing the team less favoured to win, but will no doubt be no less delighted by the contest even if the other team won.
I’m pretty sure Sri Lanka will win the World Cup, but I’d be no less pleased if the trophy returned to my neighbourhood.
(The author is former Editor-in-Chief of The Nation, Colombo, a well-known columnist and a prize-winning poet. Views are personal. By special arrangement with Sapan News )