Sambit Bal
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India v Pakistan, World Cup 2011, 2nd semi-final, Mohali

Only a match in Mohali

Twenty-two cricketers will subject their skills and temperament to the toughest of tests; equally, fans in both countries will be on trial

Sambit Bal

March 29, 2011

Comments: 58 | Text size: A | A

Indian fans wear their support, India v Australia, 2nd quarter-final, Ahmedabad, World Cup 2011, March 24, 2011
Revelling in victory is the easiest thing, but grace in defeat is easily the highest of virtues © Getty Images

Fresh from his match-winning performance against Australia in the quarter-final, Yuvraj Singh inevitably found himself confronted with questions about the semi-final against Pakistan. "No point saying it will be a normal match," Yuvraj said. "You all expect us to win, the whole country expects us to win. We are doing the best we can and leaving the rest to God."

It's impossible not to feel for the players, all 22 of them. It is no point pretending that this is just another match. It is the semi-final of the World Cup. And it's between India and Pakistan. Between them, there has been Partition. Three wars. Suspicion. Animosity. Kashmir.

Also diplomacy. Politics. Attempted reconciliation. Cricket can never expect to fully free itself of the web of history. And though it is a huge and unfair burden that the cricketers carry, it is their reality.

But there is another way of looking at India and Pakistan. No two cricket nations have so much in common. There is the language and culture. Food. A shared passion for films and music. So much so that when an Indian or Pakistani lands either in Delhi or Lahore, it feels just like home. And Indian and Pakistani cricketers are friendlier with each other than they are with players from any other country. It's a natural kinship shared among them, perhaps reinforced by empathy. Look at this photograph of Shahid Afridi and MS Dhoni: it's hard to picture any other pair of captains presenting a picture of such warmth and comradeship.

I remember a conversation I had with Younis Khan, then captain of Pakistan, a couple of days after his team had beaten India in a Champions Trophy match in Pretoria in 2009. Younis spoke of chiding a couple of Indian television journalists who'd been chasing him for a quote that would damn Dhoni. "Why are you after Dhoni?" he asked them. "Winning and losing, it keeps happening. Today it is his turn, tomorrow it could be mine."

Younis wasn't being prescient, just real. A couple of days later he found himself before the firing squad, answering questions about match-fixing after having dropped a simple catch off Grant Elliot in the semi-final against New Zealand. Elliot went on to play a match-winning innings. Younis was playing with a broken finger. "A few days ago I took a catch and effected a run-out and I was praised for playing with a broken finger,'' he said. Some questioned his wisdom of playing with an injury, but had he pulled out, he would surely been accused of abdicating his responsibility to the country.

Sport is inextricably linked to national identity. Which isn't a bad thing by itself, because sport for the most part is a feel-good, positive force. It makes fans appreciate skills and beauty, the thrill of competition and of overcoming odds. But being a sports fan is as much about joy as it is about pain. It's part of the deal. For every winner there must be a loser. In fact, victory would never feel so thrilling without the experience of loss.

Fans in Islamabad wave flags in the street after Pakistan went through to the World Cup semi-finals, Islamabad, March 23, 2011
India v Pakistan will be a test for the fans as well as the players © AFP

All sports, wrote Simon Barnes in The Meaning of Sport, "represent the collision of wills: people or teams who want the same thing and have to cause somebody pain in order to get it". It is easy, if you so choose, to find in this a metaphor for warfare, but the beauty of sport is that people rarely die playing it. Sportsmen compete fiercely and proudly, exhausting themselves mentally and physically in the pursuit of victory, and then the victor and vanquished walk off the field, shaking each other's hand, and often with the knowledge that no victory or loss is final. They will compete again tomorrow and there will be another shot at redemption. That is the essence of sport.

Partisanship is fundamental to fandom. It is the bedrock of sport. Without it sport would be reduced to a mere spectacle, devoid of its emotional core. By the same token, triumphalism is its biggest bane. Allied with nationalism, it presents the ugly face of sport. It blinds fans to the very spirit of competition between athletes.

Twenty-two cricketers will subject their skills and temperament to the toughest of tests tomorrow. Equally, the fans in both the nations will be on trial too.

Very few expected Pakistan to go so far so smoothly in this World Cup. Only a month ago their team lay in tatters following the spot-fixing verdict. Irrespective of what happens in Mohali, their performance in the World Cup is worthy of celebration. Indian fans never forget to remind the world that their team has not lost to Pakistan in a World Cup match. That is an impressive record. But it's not a run that can last forever. Nothing in life is permanent.

Fans should feel grateful the tournament has produced a semi-final that feels like a final. It is also appropriate that the match is taking place in Punjab. Mohali is a small town, lacking the facilities and space for such a high-profile match, but there couldn't have been a more perfect place, geographically and culturally, for a World Cup match between these two rivals.

Punjabiyat is the biggest common theme between these nations, and the spirit of hospitality is the defining characteristic of the Punjabi culture on both sides of the border. It has become a cliché now, but travelling to Pakistan during India's landmark tour of 2004 provided me with some of the most moving and uplifting experiences of my life. It was, and will remain, one of the greatest examples of how sport - and in the subcontinent that means cricket - can be a beacon for goodwill and fellow feeling.

And after the fans have spent themselves in cheering their teams, irrespective of the result, they will do well to evoke the spirit of Chennai in 1999 or Karachi in 2004. After their teams had lost emotionally draining encounters, the fans rose to make their sport, and nations, proud.

On the field tomorrow there is the opportunity for one team to take the penultimate step towards cricket's biggest prize. For Pakistan, for all its troubles inside and outside the game, a World Cup win will be the tonic that the nation needs. For Indians, above everything else, it will be the perfect gift for their most-adored sport hero. But a bigger opportunity lies beyond the boundary. To revel in victory is the greatest reward for the sports fan, but nothing dignifies the sport more than grace in defeat.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Imran83 on (March 31, 2011, 0:24 GMT)

Sambit, really enjoyed this piece and your others during the WC. Glad that you've been able to write so frequently.

Posted by NP_NY on (March 30, 2011, 19:05 GMT)

"Nothing dignifies the sport more than grace in defeat" - Well said Sambit. And very well done Shahid Afridi. The Pakistan captain was absolutely graceful in defeat today and I respect him for that. I just wish Tendulkar/Dhoni had said a few words of goodwill for the Pakistani players for their great show in this world cup. Glad India won today. But even more glad that it was a gripping match for the most part.

Posted by   on (March 30, 2011, 7:50 GMT)

best of luck for today match

Posted by abdullah_fer on (March 30, 2011, 6:18 GMT)

Who ever wins this match. The victory will be of the game of cricket. Wining and losing are the part of a game. We have not to loose our temperament and enjoy this "Clash of Titans". So it is requested to people from both countries to have this mind that one has to win and other has to lose, so don't get hurt. Best of luck to both teams.

Posted by harshthakor on (March 30, 2011, 6:11 GMT)

Let us all pray that the eventual winner is the glorious game of Cricket and not India or Pakistan!Let the spirit of Sport triumph!I think it will more exciting than a Hollywood epic with continuous twists and turns with an unexpected end.

Personally,with their fiery attack which is more suitable for the Mohali conditions Pakistan have the 51-49 edge.They posess the superior mental tenacity and killer instinct and always champion the 'dark horse 'tag.I can't forget how they have ressurected themselves from the daed in the 1992 cup.

Posted by   on (March 30, 2011, 5:29 GMT)

If only IND had played to their potential against ENG and SA in the league matches, this encounter would be taking place in Mumbai on a Saturday, when the whole world could witness two most talented and skilled sides battle it out for finishing 1st and 2nd on the world map for coming four years. Common neighbours, SL, would be having nightmares about prospects of Saturday in Mumbai regardless!!

Posted by jazee on (March 30, 2011, 4:56 GMT)

i just hope there is an uninterrupted 50 over match. The best will surely pervails.

Posted by   on (March 30, 2011, 3:04 GMT)

How could either team after winning this stand a chance vs SL? Their final is tonight

Posted by arvin on (March 30, 2011, 2:37 GMT)

typical sambit bal mentality of playing down india-pak matches... if this match was between aussie/england then sambit bal will be the first one to scream that this is more than a match and what else not...

Posted by whiskeysour on (March 30, 2011, 1:18 GMT)

Being a Lankan fan, I'm enjoying all this hype. Perhaps the winners will be emotionally drained when they meet SL in the final. Cool :)

Posted by SagirParkar on (March 30, 2011, 0:32 GMT)

wonderfully composed essay Sambit, well done !

Posted by Faizan_ahmed on (March 29, 2011, 23:46 GMT)

This article should be published in every newspaper and posted on every wall in both the countries for everyone to read... Winning and losing is part of the game... I just look forward to a great game of cricket... All I expect from both teams is to play their best, irrespective of who wins or loses... They both have made their nations proud with what they have achieved thus far... Enjoy the game for what it is and best of luck to both teams...

Posted by kshah1 on (March 29, 2011, 23:04 GMT)

@Mahesh Kumar: I agree with you, his role as editor is what makes this site's coverage as great as it is. While it may be impossible to separate the match from political agendas, I hope that it is the beginning of the renewal of cricketing ties between the countries. The Indian tour of Pakistan in 2004 was the most interesting I have ever witnessed and it is a great shame that some of the best T20 players in the world, like Gul, Afridi and Razzaq, are absent from the IPL.

Posted by ashrogue on (March 29, 2011, 23:03 GMT)

I hope tomorrow, Cricket will win. And it will win, through the fans who love the game. We will celebrate the finest performance of cricket. Let us cheer for every flash and effort. Whoever scores, whoever strikes, whoever dives and whoever carries the trophy, Cricket will win only through the civility we show towards the efforts of those 22 players.

Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 23:01 GMT)

Spot on! .. it's never the victory which teaches you how to handle the sport, the fame, the pressure, the lessons of humility or the virtues of bouncing back. Only in defeat do you learn how to conduct yourself, not to blame others, not to be dishonest or over-emotional. Victory teaches how to respect the opponent, defeat teaches how to accept that there is always something higher to attain. Most of all, there is life beyond sport. The stakes would be high - but the fans must remember that win or lose this is the same team which carried their hopes and pride until this point. ( oh! and that they both finally showed that the one team which was forever beyond the clutches of World Cup defeats could be defeated after all! .. hehe!)

Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 22:46 GMT)

As fans we should not gloat if our team wins and should not pillory if our team loses. This is a test for fans as much as it is for the players. Above all we should remember that success and failure arer both impostors - here today gone tomorrow...

Posted by Jama on (March 29, 2011, 22:39 GMT)

SL is scared of INDIA dats why they want PAKISTAN to be in the finals.

Posted by PD_Googly on (March 29, 2011, 22:24 GMT)

As an Indian supporter, I will love to see an Indian Victory. But at the same time we all must remember that no matter what we say it is a game and only one team will proceed to final. So as Aswin said before the start of Ind vs. Aus match " The fans should watch it is a game and not burden themselves or players with their expectations". Hope we have a good game and may the best team win.

Posted by Alexk400 on (March 29, 2011, 22:15 GMT)

Pakistan lacks depth. If india play out shahid afridi 4 an over. Game over. if Dhoni is smart , he will bench Bhajji in this game and play pathan and raina. Pakistan always play bhaji real well espcially afridi and razzaq. Ashwin should play instead of bhajji.

Sehwag won't score that much again. It will be sachin and gambhir score most of the runs. yuvi plays his cameo.

India has almost 80% chance to win this game.

To pakistan to win , they need to bat and score 300 runs. it will be lots of pressure for indians to achieve in world cup pressure games.

Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 21:50 GMT)

I have said it before INDIA will beat PAK. THERE is no if,but nor maybe. INDIA will win.IT is simple to deduce. A solid batting line up against an average line up,PAK. BOTH teams with bowling variety. ACCURATE PACE and penetrative spin, both teams.PAK will make no more than 200runs and INDIA will make that before 50 overs. THE match will be an anti climax. WHY all the hype?

Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 21:25 GMT)

I can feel the intense of this match even in England. Not just in the Indian and Pakistani community, but also in the British community. My University departmental head has arranged for a live sreening of this match in a BIG screen. This arrangement was NOT done even for the England's matches. It will be a great feeling to watch this game with my Indian, Pakistani and other international friends.

Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 21:22 GMT)

Today's game is high voltage for India not only because it's against arch rival, but also because GOD deserves a world cup.

Posted by SrikanthReddi on (March 29, 2011, 21:18 GMT)

We will cheer our SACHIN. Sachin will win it for us. He has trying to lay his hands since 1992. God upstairs is great and will please the god on earth.

Posted by baskar_guha on (March 29, 2011, 21:10 GMT)

Nice article. It is amazing though how a win makes a fan feel elated for days while a loss feels like a cloud of depression that does not dissipate. How players celebrate and commiserate can make a difference in this regard to how the fan feels.

Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 21:09 GMT)

Great Article by Bal! Keep it up!!.

Posted by kiranksl on (March 29, 2011, 21:02 GMT)

How many of us (Indians) will watch the IPL if India loses tomorrow?!? Probably far fewer than if we win...what with our top 5 in the starting eleven each leading a franchise (Sehwag, Sachin, Gambhir, Yuvraj, Dhoni) add to that Harbhajan, Kohli, Raina and Zaheer...boy India better win or the IPL starting in 10 days will be a flop!

Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 20:56 GMT)

Finally a sensible article, tomorrow match is another game of cricket and there is no need to create a hype. Sambit ji, I appreciate your efforts

Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 20:55 GMT)

WELL DONE Sambit..... Mind blowing and really a must read article before watching tomorrows match.....if we the spectators will keep our nerves cool and take it just as a sport only that will be time when the cricket will win no matter if it go to India or Pakistan.... but of course national affiliations are there and should be to support their team..... GOOD LUCK GUYS........

Posted by Shhy on (March 29, 2011, 20:51 GMT)

After all these hype and hoopla.. somehow my mindset is changed and i am prepared for anything.. I am in Saudi and i have a lot of Pakistanis working with me.. Everyone of them keep on asking me.. Are u ready..? Are u Mentally prepared to lose? I jus gave them a smile and said.. Let the best team on the day win.. and in return i got the smile.. Thats sport and thats what the players are there for.. Will be really happy to see the Indian victory.. but will also be happy if our fans and the media are graceful in defeat..

Posted by Chunati on (March 29, 2011, 20:46 GMT)

Not only this one, but all the articles leading to this semi-final have been very well written and devoid of controversy. I hope fans of the defeated team can take things in stride. The best was the picture of smiling Afridi and Dhoni. Let the better team win and everyone remember that after everything this is only a sport. Life is much bigger.

Posted by indianpunter on (March 29, 2011, 20:45 GMT)

magnanimity in victory leads to goodwill in defeat. i am indian and i hope india wins, but pakistan is my 2nd favourite team. here's wishing both teams all the very best. May the best team on the day win, and may that team be India !

Posted by Rayind on (March 29, 2011, 20:35 GMT)

Very well said Sambit....nice. It's just a game not life....the good aprt of our Asian team (IND, PAK or SL) will win the cup.

Posted by Bradulkar on (March 29, 2011, 20:23 GMT)

Great article Sambit.....couldn't agree with you more.....We all need to take victory and defeat in the same spirit and stay grounded.....after all its a game and not a war.

However team india needs to give it more than 100% and should not flinch when the going gets tough......for nothing is easy when winning a WC. Need to sweat for every run and every wicket.....and give it all...fight till the end... and leave it all on field....Results will follow and more often than not....they will be positive....

Hopefully India will pull it off and give India's Bradman the most coveted prize in world cricket as gift.....and a perfect send off into the sunset..... GO INDIA GO!!!

Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 20:01 GMT)

Its a great article to read and it was worth of sparing about 20 minutes (i am a slow reader :)) from a busy schedule to read this and energize myself in neutral pace. I love you team Pakistan and we all have a faith in you as much as we have sportsman spirit to accept any side of the results.I dont care for results tomorrow, just do your best and give us a best game to watch. I'A you will be fine. Best of luck my team Pakistan.

Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 20:00 GMT)

best article on Pak vs. India match that I've read so far!

Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 19:54 GMT)

This is a great article. Yes, I want India to win tomorrow, but I can see how wonderful it would be for Pakistan in general if they won the Cup. Good luck to them both, and I hope our guests from Pakistan feel welcome and safe here.

Thanks for at least trying to inject some sense into this madness.

Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 19:53 GMT)

This is more then a game just look at the history of both countries the matches they have played, the wars, kashmir etc pakistan india gameas have never ever been straight forword if the players form both sides cant handle pressure then they should not be playing cricket should they? bring it on i want the game go down to the last ball inshallah the victory will be pakistans

Posted by kurnal on (March 29, 2011, 19:50 GMT)

As a fan all I ask is that it be a good game. Pressure is what makes sport more than a skill and physical test: nationalism and patriotism included. A good article but it is worth remembering that it only feels like a final. There were fourteen teams competing and one has already made it to the finals: albeit with enough heart attacks for its fans. Look fwd to a good game tomorrow.And yes LOL india.

Posted by bala-chala on (March 29, 2011, 19:49 GMT)

At last the long awaited match that happens possibly only once in four years has arrived. But why has there been such a mellowing down objective of this match on cricinfo?. Every article keeps screaming the same message in different forms. "It's only a cricket match" as if the fans need such constant reminding.

Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 19:39 GMT)

after reading through a bunch of mindless articles about the semi finals here's a gem! rest all the author seem to be a little confused with what they want to put up!

Posted by Lala_Amarnath on (March 29, 2011, 19:30 GMT)

The equation is simple: the one winning toss will win the match. Guaranteed.

Posted by kunal_bhatt on (March 29, 2011, 19:29 GMT)

Thanks Sambit for the beautiful article. You have really summed up the psyche of the players so well. I love reading Cricinfo articles and they are getting better day by day. Hope we have a rocking Semi-Final tomorrow but it has to be India who will win and make its people proud.

Posted by vallavarayar on (March 29, 2011, 19:28 GMT)

I think the photo of the 2 captains is completely irrelevant to the article. It is just a photo opportunity and reflects the individuals personality involved. All this waxing lyrical about the common culture and food etc, is pure dross. It is typical of a feel good article written by a journalist who wants to encapsulate things in a nice small box, without really understanding the nature of the opponents. Cricket is a game alright, but Punjab doesn't make all of Pakistan, the same as in India. Oversimplification of the reasons behind the antagonism between the two nations is bad journalism.

Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 19:19 GMT)

yeah we all need to relax! ive never seen pak beat india ever in my life so i won;t mind taking another one! but as someone on cricinfo said either history repeats itself or its re-written! i'll be praying for the latter but may the best team win! Goodluck india! Goodluck pakistan!

Posted by Abhimanyu on (March 29, 2011, 19:16 GMT)

I wonder where is Parveen Kumar??? He was selected for the 15 member world cup squad but then was replaced by Sreesanth due to an injured elbow. But he should be fit by now since it has been more than 3 months when he got injured before the start of the one-day series in South Africa. I think everyone has forgotten him, he has been the leading wicket taker for India in the he past couple of years. Why not bring him back to support Zaheer Khan and strengthen the fast bowling attack, which is the only weakness in this Indian team.

Posted by pipsonian on (March 29, 2011, 19:12 GMT)

i am going into meditation to ready myself for all possible outcomes

Posted by ms.arjun on (March 29, 2011, 19:04 GMT)

I strongly believe that the match has been hyped way too much. Feel so sorry for the players of both teams. The players from both the countries are always under immense pressure, carrying at all times the hope of an entire nation. Now the government, politicians, media are just acting senseless and stupid, and it does no good by adding too much expectations than there already is. And also there is always a bunch of idiots who fight endlessly debating which nation is best over the internet. Cricket is a just a sport where anything can happen a given day. Good Luck both teams. May the better team on the day win!!!

Posted by SachinIsTheGreatest on (March 29, 2011, 19:02 GMT)

Brilliant article. The reason I did not want India v Pakistan in this World Cup was because it would be too unfair on the players. There is too much at stake and these men will be asked to atone for the failures of their governments and leaders - as if one cricket victory will set everything right.

Finally, I hope the victor(the players, the media and the "fans") shows graciousness. It is far tougher to be gracious in victory than in defeat.

Posted by agm_ on (March 29, 2011, 18:58 GMT)

A wonderful article and could not disagree with anything.

However, one thing I will add is this. Sambit notes "that no victory or loss is final. They will compete again tomorrow... That is the essence of sport." However, for most Indian fans this is not 'simply' about winning the World Cup. It is about Sachin gaining something he could not possibly deserve more. And for him this is (in all likelihood) his last chance.

But all in all, a wonderful article, and great closing sentence.

Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 18:58 GMT)

Sambit Lal is the best writer at cricinfo. He is most level-headed, unbiased and skilled analyst. I love his writing!

Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 18:50 GMT)

A must read before watching tomorrow's Indo-Pak encounter. . .btw just imagine, what if Pakistan and India were one team? And yeah best of luck for both teams tomorrow, enjoy but not on the expense of other's emotions!

Posted by kanevs11 on (March 29, 2011, 18:50 GMT)

sri lanka the champs doesnt matter whoever wins

Posted by ShyCric on (March 29, 2011, 18:32 GMT)

Good Luck India. Give your best. No matter what ever the result we all Indians are with our team India. My Gut feeling is India will win comprehensively. Apart from cricket, the subcontinent nations should excel in other sports and make a mark in Olympics and compete with all nations in the world. Sports bring harmony and the determination to win.

Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 18:17 GMT)

one of the best articles i read...i dnt knw abt win or lose ill still be supporting my team Pakistan...

Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 18:17 GMT)

Fair article. I hope that the people commenting on it are fair too and not abusive and that goes for both Indians and Pakistanis.

Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 18:15 GMT)

i luv Pakistani bowlers bt nt pakistan

Posted by localdada on (March 29, 2011, 18:12 GMT)

Agree completely with the sentiment of the article. I was there in the stands at Chepauk, Chennai in 1999 (giving a standing ovation to Pakistan after heartbroken by the Indian chase that unraveled at the end.) It's a very important game tomorrow but still only a game.

Sambit: I might be pedantic but India and Pakistan have waged 4 wars not 3. Don't forget the one in 1999.

Posted by anirudhmeerut on (March 29, 2011, 18:12 GMT)


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Sambit Bal Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.

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