Ever since the Nawabs of Awadh were so immersed in a game of chess that they did not see Gen. Outram’s soldiers marching into their capital, and finally reaching Delhi, the British have used sports to full measure for their conquests. Now that they have bequeathed the game of cricket to the partitioned country, it is appropriate that this rivalry is carried to their own backyard, Manchester where it seems more people speak Urdu, Bengali and Hindi than English.
It took another five years for Pakistan to tour India in the 1951-52 series. In the case of Test matches while Pakistan has won 12 against India’s 9, in the case of One Day Internationals (ODI) Pakistan is ahead with 73 against India’s 54. There was a lull between1962 and 1977 when there were no cricket matches played between the two countries due to two wars. So also the Kargil encounter and Mumbai attacks interrupted bilateral matches.
It was thus that neutral states with large expatriate populations like the United Arab Emirates and Canada provided the setting for the revival of rivalries and these became money spinners. Tickets for the 2015 World Cup in Australia between the countries were sold out in 11 minutes.
While there is intense pressure to win, these have also been used for diplomacy. The one-day match at Karachi in 2004, where Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka were in the VIP box along with Arun Jaitley and Gen. Musharraf and congratulated Dhoni for winning the match and told him not to cut his long hair was one moment for optics. When Musharraf was in Delhi for talks, he also witnessed the match that was played in Kotla Grounds.
The 2011 World Cup attracted a record 135 million viewers in India alone and the opening match of the T20 World Cup in 2015 reached a live audience of one billion viewers. Shortly after Operation Brasstacks Pakistan President Gen Zia was invited to watch the one-day match at Jaipur and cricket diplomacy seemed to be gaining ground. During the Indian tour of Pakistan at the match at Lahore came the news of the Indira Gandhi’s assassination and the team was safely escorted to a Delhi that was burning and the series cancelled.
Since then neutral venues had been preferred and the Gulf boom came along at this time. The increase of multinational contests like the Cricket World Cup, the ICC T20, the ICC Champions Trophy and the Austral-Asia Cup and Asia Cup have all joined in this extravaganza.
After Prime Minister Vajpayee’s historic Lahore visit a Pakistani team came to India but that was interrupted by the Kargil war. Again after Vajpayee’s initiative a second time India toured Pakistan in 2003 after a 15-year gap but that too called off due to the Mumbai attacks. The series seemed have been jinxed. Pakistan also had their own problems as when a touring Sri Lankan team was attacked in Lahore leading to their being stripped off co-host status. In 2012 or the ICC semi-final in Chandigarh, Pakistan President Yosuf Raza Gilani was invited and watched the match along with Dr. Manmohan Singh Indian Prime Minister. It was in2014 that the BCCI secretary cleared the bilateral series with Pakistan after getting the Indian Government approval.
Thus the tortuous path to the showdown in Manchester has its own ups and downs and this is the first time that some extraneous factor is throwing the spanner. The Nottingham match had already been spoiled by rain and Manchester is facing the threat and if our rulers have any hot line with the Rain Gods this is the time for them to make a call. After all so many hearts are aflutter and there is so much at stake.