India versus Pakistan in World Cup 2019 at Old Trafford will be a match made in Manchester heaven — one way or the other. Either we play, we don't, or we have a shortened game. In the immortal words of Ravi Shastri, the commentator: all three results are possible!
Cricket fans, Indians and Pakistanis primarily, have googled Manchester weather with gusto over the last 10 days, and the search has spiked (it's my job to know this) in the run-up to match day at Old Trafford.
In a few hours, we will be spectators to chapter seven of a lopsided World Cup scorecard between the two teams. The 6-0 scoreline in India's favour is deeply satisfying. For sure, Indians are praying for it to become 7-0. I am praying too, but the catch is my prayers no longer have the rabid fervour of earlier.
Javed Miandad hammering a final ball six off Chetan Sharma in Sharjah 1986 had driven a dagger into the heart. It scarred, then scared me as Pakistan assumed an aura of invincibility against India in One-Day Internationals (ODIs). Sharma's wonderful Test match bowling in England, his hat-trick in the 1987 World Cup (also the game in which Sunil Gavaskar scored his lone ODI century: an unbeaten 103 off 88 balls) paled into insignificance for a long time. I did not know any better. I am sorry, Mr Sharma.
I had grown up hating, being wary of anything Pakistan except songs — case in point, Nazia Hassan and her Disco Deewane . No one sat me down and taught me to hate Pakistan. I picked it up from here, there, everywhere. It was there in the air. It was there in tales of our bravery and their "treachery". At times, baffling questions would pop up. Weren't there braves on the other side too? Didn't they have loving families too? These questions died of natural causes because no one bothered to tell me otherwise. All I got is, "One day, you will know."
The 'one day' came, but not in a day. It came at its own pace, over years. For the brave new generation of Indian fans, Pakistan isn't what it used to be. A quick check of the ODI head-to-head will be a reality check of its dominance. The new generation owes gratitude to the skilled generation of Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh, marshalled by Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad and... (let me not digress). It was under these players that the tide turned.
All the while, the World Cup remained India's turf. What I write now formed the bedtime stories I subjected my junior to. He had no choice, but to listen wide-eyed from the crib because he had not even started walking. Now, for any question he has as a teen, I end up with a cricket analogy. Thankfully, he is balanced. I did not succeed in infecting him with my earlier rabidity. Make no mistake, he is itching for a cricketing fight with Pakistan.
Today, he will be anxious, also praying to his set of cricketing gods to make it 7-0, but he will want to do it on merit. This is so unlike me. My prayers earlier for an India-Pakistan World Cup clash would be essentially this: 'Dear god/goddess, just make sure we beat Pakistan, I will never ask for anything else.' I was a fool. Dear God and Goddess always obliged. In 1992 we beat Pakistan, but they went on to lift the title. In 1996, we went from the high of beating Pakistan in the quarterfinal to the low of defaulting to Sri Lanka in the semifinal.
Then, I changed tack and became greedier with the prayers: 'Beat Pakistan and win the World Cup too.' We kept beating Pakistan, but the prayers truly bore fruit only in 2011.
Today, consuming all the weather news from Manchester, pestering desi friends in the UK for rain updates, I have no cricketing rancour towards Pakistan. They produced some of my favourites. Hand on heart, many Indian cricket fans will admit to being jealous of their assembly line of fast bowlers of yore. This is sport, not games. I want us to beat Pakistan, while being a true sport. The jingoism has taken a back seat, the marketing agendas do not get to me any more. Cricket has taken centre stage.
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