India v Pakistan: a maturing rivalry
The two biggest rivalries in international cricket dominate the ICC World Twenty20 on Friday. When the pressure of national expectations grips players in these encounters, cricket becomes a tortured mind game. No greater incentive is required than the historical landmark that a World Cup battle creates, captured perfectly in millions--perhaps billions--of memories despite the orgy of one-day cricket outside World Cups. An ICC World Twenty20 match should not be any different. Indeed, a further incentive exists as England and Pakistan can dismiss their rivals from the tournament.
The Ashes opponents might possess the longest cricketing rivalry but India versus Pakistan, particularly in a World Cup, must have become the premier contest. The argument is a simple one, it is one of demographics. Cricket's biggest populations will be on edge as their heroes do battle. Consider, too, some internet stats which show that while Cricinfo is in the top 200 sites in most cricketing nations, for all South Asian countries it is in the top 25--a remarkable achievement when you consider that this means company with Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ebay, MySpace, Facebook, and other internet giants.
The conclusion is that cricket matters. It stops work and interrupts conversations. It excites and demoralises . It demands attention and provokes fury. In India and Pakistan you can can be assured of this fervour. Perhaps too in Australia, but it is the English side of that equation that offers only sporadic passion, making India versus Pakistan an equal and unparalleled rivalry.
But it is also a maturing one. Where once these matches were fuelled by memories of war, death, and blood they are now sustained by globalisation, television, and the internet. The current generation of cricket fans has had greater interaction with the "enemy" and has no memory of partition other than through the proud but bitter tales of elders.
Cricketers may seem less mature but my judgment is that fans have matured. We still support our team--often at a distance-- with a passion, however, it is the success of our team that drives us rather than the destruction of our enemy. And that is an important distinction because it allows some levity to enter the millions of worldwide conversations between Indians and Pakistanis anticipating this important contest.
There are, and always will be, exceptions to this generalisation but the angry voices belong to Luddites, clinging on to an ancient and increasingly irrelevant hatred. With each major encounter the passion survives and the venom dies.
Cricket and cricketers have played a major role in opening hearts and minds but one step remains. Australia and England might now play the second most important match in international cricket but they do so with a friendly rivalry that the maturing rivalry of India and Pakistan must learn from and aspire to emulate. Let's hope Afridi and Dhoni, Asif and Pathan, thrills and spills, continue to nudge us ever closer.
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here