February 14, 2015

India v Pakistan, but it's muted this time

The build-up to the World Cup clash seems restrained with fans from both sides not feeling particularly bullish about their team's chances

India have a 5-0 unbeaten run in the World Cup against Pakistan, which makes them ripe for the toppling © AFP

India-Pakistan World Cup games get to the best of us. A Pakistani friend of mine, a very serious man, a professor of computer science, a published poet who writes very polished Urdu, an expert on Islamic history, and an acerbic critic of modern Pakistani politics, recently sent out a tweet with a scoreline reading 72-50 (Pakistan v India in all one-day internationals), and a rough and ready Urdu phrase that wondered if India had had enough. Unable to resist, I wrote back that the relevant numbers were actually 5-0 (India v Pakistan in World Cup games) and 2-1 (the number of World Cups won).

It is often forgotten, in all the teeth-gnashing over the India-Pakistan World Cup final that didn't come to be - the 1987 edition - that India and Pakistan could have met in the final of the 1983 World Cup too. But on that occasion, India won their semi-final (and, ahem, the final too), while Pakistan lost in the second semi-final to West Indies. (Curiously enough, Pakistan made almost exactly the same number of runs that India would make in the final, reaching 184 for 8, a score West Indies easily chased down, losing only two wickets in the process.)

India and Pakistan finally met in the World Cup for the first time in 1992, and since then, they have met four more times. And, of course, as a rather cheeky Star Sports advertisement making the rounds reminds us, India have won all those games. Any serious fan of Indian cricket will be able to tell you where and how he watched those games, and how his feelings swung from one extreme to the other as the games progressed.

For my money, despite the Tendulkar pyrotechnics of 2003, the best of all these games remains the 1996 quarter-final; its atmosphere was the most hothouse of all. The most edgy pre-game atmosphere was that of the 1999 edition; one can only hope that the political circumstances that conspired to bring that about in that summer will not be repeated. In 2011, I was due to attend a faculty meeting with the dean of my college on the day of the India-Pakistan match; I sent an email to the dean, asking to be excused as I had come down with a sudden fever. Much to my dismay, I found the other Indian faculty member who was supposed to attend the meeting had already used this particular excuse. I carried on, trusting the utter anonymity of cricket in the US to provide my deceit some much-needed cover.

If Pakistan are to snap their losing World Cup streak against India, they might as well do so in a opening round game

India's 5-0 unbeaten run in the World Cup makes me a little uneasy. There seems little doubt in my mind that it will end some day. I have often said, showing a species of anxiety that comes all too easily to me, that Pakistan will, just to break Indian hearts a little harder, choose a World Cup final in which to snap this losing streak. Whenever I've mentioned this possibility to other Indian cricket fans, the usual reactions split neatly into two halves: one half agrees that given India's history with Pakistan in cricket, this is the most likely outcome, and the other half urges me to keep my benighted thoughts to myself, lest some listening demon's ears perk up and he begins to make this twisted turn of events possible.

This time around, curiously enough, the hype feels a little restrained. India have been tramping through Australia, racking up a winless record; Pakistan bring their usual batting fragility and a poor record in Australian conditions with them. Neither side feels inclined to crow excessively about how they expect to win. This modesty has manifested itself in fans happy enough to talk up the opposition's chances.

A couple of days ago, as I shopped in a neighbourhood Pakistani store, I chatted with a youngster from Sialkot who invariably staffs its counter. As the subject of this Sunday's game came up, he shook his head and ruefully said, in Punjabi, "Ai game ais vari vee tusi jit jaoge. [This time again you will win.]" I was not so confident, and replied, "Inna bharosa mainu nee haiga. [I don't have as much faith as you.]" We grinned at each other. Perhaps we had swung cricketing fortunes our way with our hopefully pessimistic incantations.

And besides, I thought, as I walked out of the store, if Pakistan are to snap their losing World Cup streak against India, they might as well do so in a opening round game.

I'll check in with the young lad the day after to see which one of us cast a more efficacious spell.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. @EyeonthePitch

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