It’s Time For India & Pakistan To Renew Their Test Rivalry

Rangers vs Celtic looks like walk in the park compared to these two. The strips are the same – one wears blue and one wears green, and blood, guts and years of hatred have spilled onto the shirts. It’s religion, it’s politics, and oh, it’s cricket, too.

It’s India vs Pakistan.


If it was a local rivalry between two cricketing rivals who despised each other, then we would ask the question repeatedly: ‘Why aren’t they playing each other?” After all, Australia and England get involved every two years – and it’s making for (somewhat) good TV. ‘Cricket fans’ will tell you that they can’t wait for the Ashes, but will happily ignore the delights of last year’s amazing series against India or the roller-coaster at Sri Lanka. That’s not to say that they don’t love the sound of leather smashing against willow, it’s just that England touring Galle doesn’t garner the same attention. As a cricket fan – or simply a fan of politics and sport – India and Pakistan might be cricket fun on steroids.

It’s sad to see, therefore, that the rivalry’s only played out 59 times, with most of those results ending as draws (last time around persistently bad light took out all four Test matches, with India in complete control of all of them).

Right now, why wouldn’t the world want to see Mohammed Abbas bowling at Virat Kohli, or Yasir Shah showing the world how he compares to India’s best spin pairing of Ashwin and Jadega. We would love to see Privithi Shaw in the limelight in a packed Karachi Stadium blasting sixes, or Azhar Ali facing off against Bhuvneshawar Kumar at the end of Day 5, trying to get Pakistan out of the hole that they inevitably built for themselves.

But you can’t. Because it’s more complicated than that.


On March 3rd 2009, Sri Lanka’s tour bus was attacked by Pakistani terrorists. Six of the Sri Lankan team were wounded, while some of their Pakistani security were killed by a terrorist organisation who we won’t mention.

Since then, Pakistan has not hosted a Test Series. Instead of Lahore, matches go to the palaces of the United Arab Emirates, where one of the greatest/worst (depending on what day it is) teams in the world scrap for attention, played in front of a tiny, yawning audience. The wildly-exciting and even New Zealand Series is out there at the moment. Can you imagine how much more intense it would be if those matches were in Lahore or Karachi?

But that’s not the case. Despite staging the 2018 Pakistan Super League (PSL) finals and semi finals in Pakistan without any incident, test matches aren’t going to be played there anytime soon.

And while in India’s case it’s unsurprising that the BCCI don’t want their team travelling to their hated neighbour for a three or four-game Test Series, it’s sad, too. After all, “we beat Pakistan in the UAE” doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?


Although Pakistan players were in the inaugural IPL in 2008, they haven’t returned since then.

Bollywood actor Rishi Kapoor has pleaded with the owners to include Pakistani cricketers in the IPL in 2017 – especially as IPL players from Afghanistan (hardly the world’s most-calm state) were included, but the owners don’t listen. Evidently there’s a pecking order, and Shadab Khan is a worse cricketer than Basil Thampi, who managed to concede 70 runs in 4 overs in his only outing in 2018.

You get the feeling that if one owner would just stick his neck out, get a player like Khan, reap the rewards as his Pakistani cricketer was successful, then other owners would follow suit. But everyone – like the owners in the NFL who refused to hire Colin Kaepernick because of his ‘other issues’ is running scared.

And by the way, Indian players don’t play in the PSL – even though players from other countries – including England’s T20 specialist Chris Jordan – have gone there and back unscathed. Although it’s arguably about money – the Pakistani League pays tuppence compared to the IPL – but you get the feeling that something else simmers underneath.


Unfortunately it’s not easy. Despite being British and knowing – guiltily – that the UK’s decision to partition India in 1947 created two states, I don’t understand the hatred between the two sides. I don’t understand why the green flag is loathed by one side as much as the blue flag is loathed by the other. It’s weird for me, because Sachin Tendulkar happily promoted the same thing that sponsors Pakistan’s cricket shirt: Pepsi.

So then, why not hold a series for both teams every four years outside of India and Pakistan? England, South Africa, Australia, and the West Indies would all be fascinating places for a Test Series, and certainly in the first three countries you can guarantee better crowds than the soulless drivel in the UAE. And since the ICC are all about money…close your eyes and think about the gate receipts and the TV rights, people.

The bottom line is this: world cricket is better off when India plays Pakistan at any level. When both countries play each other in ANY sport – let alone cricket – the pressures of a nation are upon them. So why not get them to play each other in a neutral arena, and let the world see that sport can at least put a bandage over the deep wounds underneath.

Alex Ferguson

2018-12-09T12:50:04+00:00December 7th, 2018|Talking Points|13 Comments


  1. Paul December 7, 2018 at 6:14 pm - Reply

    James, sorry but until Pakistan and its government show they are actually serious about stopping support for ‘freedom fighters’ and jihadists in Afghanistan, we’re not interested in playing them, this issue goes beyond sport. The recent blasphemy protests against asia bibi showed that it is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

    • Shehryar December 15, 2018 at 1:25 pm - Reply

      implying pakistan has any control over what happens in afghanistan.
      those who led the blasphemy protests are now behind bars and facing charges of contempt of court.

      if india doesnt wish to play pakistan, i as a pakistani, dont really care.

      but what i really really want is for international cricket to return to pakistan.
      i am sick of watching games in the bloody emirates, no atmosphere, bad pitch conditions

  2. Simon H December 7, 2018 at 7:15 pm - Reply

    Agreed on the sentiment – but it’s difficult to be optimistic about this one. It’s interesting that after the ECB have backed cricket returning to Pakistan very strongly (after usually not giving a sh1t about anyone else) that now Wasim Khan is becoming head of the PCB. It feels like some game of 5-D chess is going on here.

    Meanwhile, defo not a damp squib in the desert and congratulations to NZ. Last two series in UAE:

    England P6 W0 D1 L5

    New Zealand P6 W3 D1 L2

    NZ: Will you play us then?
    ECB: No.

    And Australia are just as bad.

  3. Simon H December 7, 2018 at 7:24 pm - Reply

    ‘Tis the season for “most [blank] during the year” bs. Kane Williamson is 19th in Test runscorers this year because NZ have played just five Test matches. He has a higher average than everyone above him. Everyone above him has played more games with Root having played 13.

    Anyone who uses the “most [blank] in a year” stat for anything other than to show the iniquities of the schedule is a fool who should be ignored.

  4. Marc Evans December 7, 2018 at 8:16 pm - Reply

    The sad thing is that there is no general evidence the players have inbuilt animosity towards each other. Both seem happy to play alongside and against each other in the white ball game.
    Culturally however there is certainly a divide every bit as bitter as anything going on in Ireland between Catholics and Protestant. Sadly it is once again religion that continues to divide the human race. There is no doubt that the contempt many Hindus seem to feel for Muslims is prevalent around my neck of the woods in Brum. The traditional idea that Muslims are a dirty uneducated people still holds sway here. Only when you get to know them personally through integration can this be broken down, as you find most Muslims are respectful and cultured people just wanting to get on with their lives like everyone else. Sadly there is little sign of this in our society, so I guess there can be even less on the sub continent itself. Once again it is the misinformation disseminated by the politions that keeps prejudices alive.

  5. James December 8, 2018 at 11:14 am - Reply

    On a cricket level anyone would want a Pakistan v India series. With the possible exception of the Ashes it’s the series with the most “morbo” (a Spanish word meaning extra interest). Real Madrid v Barcelona has morbo for example. But where do you play it? Pakistan won’t travel to India any more than India would go to Pakistan. There are gambling issues in UAE. England would guarantee big crowds so might be a good idea.

    • Marc Evans December 9, 2018 at 6:07 pm - Reply

      Indian and Pakistan matches against England at Edgbaston provide the sort of atmosphere more akin to St Andrews or Villa Park yet rarely seem to involve any real nastiness. Indeed many Indian and Pakistani kids follow the England team just as enthusiastically, especially now we have the likes of Moin and Rashid in the ranks. Surely that is a good thing.
      I agree wholeheartedly that if we let India play Pakistan in this country it would generate much more interest than a backwater like the UAE. I know when I was a teenager going to Warwick trials every season there were a lot of Indians playing at that level and there was no obvious animosity and this was in the 60’s and 70’s when in your face racism was often the order of the day. There would be a huge population resource to tap into here and it would be great to go as a neutral to sample the atmosphere. Bring it on I say.

  6. Simon H December 8, 2018 at 11:21 am - Reply

    Adelaide crowd about 30k on Day Two and viewing figures didn’t top a million on Day Three.

    This constant diet force-fed by CA and the ECB of playing India again and again is a rip-roaring success….

    • Alex December 8, 2018 at 6:26 pm - Reply

      Completely agree. The best series has been NZ vs Pakistan seen by nobody

  7. James Wilson December 8, 2018 at 3:55 pm - Reply

    England would be a good venue since the small grounds would sell out, given the number of locals with heritage from that part of the world.

    As to why they hate each other, politics and religion are your answer. Each country indoctrinated its children for generations to see the other as the historical wrongdoer. Britain didn’t have much option re partition, the game was up for British rule and there was zero appetite for Britain to try to force a unified India, even though that was what it (and the person in charge Mountbatten) wanted. The French tried to hold on to its empire by force and see how well that turned out.

    Mountbatten was absolutely the wrong man for the job, promoted beyond his ability, a life history of blaming others for his mistakes and far too close to Nehru; his meddling (he successfully blamed Radcliffe) accentuated the inevitable bloodshed.

  8. Simon H December 10, 2018 at 9:09 am - Reply

    The likes of Afridi and Morgan have been banging the drum for T10 in the Olympics.

    Apart from showing no confidence that T20 could be the appropraite format, there are at least two big problems:
    1) Cricket would have to comply with WADA standards which the BCCI have just rejected again.
    2) Don’t assume this is envisaged as including many teams to spread the game – they plan to limit it to the Full Member old gang. What’s the point of being in the inner circle if you can’t rig the rules in your own interests?

  9. Simon H December 10, 2018 at 3:25 pm - Reply

    This must be the worst Australian batting line-up since the Packer era (and even then their middle order of Hughes-Yallop-Border ended up being better than this one). Special agent Hick’s mission has been a triumph! Bad news for England obtaining the No.1 ranking though.

    Meanwhile no surprises in the WI tour party with the clamour for Roy from certain sections of the media being ignored. If there’s something Ed likes more than a bit of funk it’s confirming the genius of his previous opinions.

  10. Anon December 10, 2018 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    India vs Pakistan has always been a tense encounter for reasons that go beyond cricket. It’s funny how much they hate each other considering they were one country just seventy years ago. If you take out religion, apart from a few cultural differences they are the same people, ethnically and linguistically.

    Centuries of religious and political differences may add spice to the games but I personally think the quality of cricket between the two teams has gone down. That’s not to say players from both teams up their game for such an encounter, but India are clearly the better team now.

    In the 90s and early 00s Pakistan had a very balanced batting and bowling unit full of flamboyant superstars. India, on the other hand, had a great batting unit but their bowling was not upto the same standard. India are very good now, whereas Pakistan, apart from one or two gamechangers, lack the X-factor players/characters who used to add so much to the game.

    India v Pakistan in the 90s would be akin to pitting Usain Bolt (Pakistan) against Mo Farah (India) over 1500m. You just never know who’s going to win. One had flamboyance, the other was steady and solid. Both teams had their strengths and weaknesses (Pakistan has always been known for spontaneous combustion on a cricket pitch and their infighting was second to none). It was a bit like pitting a race car against a Volvo in an F1 circuit. The race car’s obvious advantage was offset by its propensity to break down.

    The current Indian side have just beaten Australia and although they may not be fully deserving of the No. 1 title, they’re still worthy contenders. The current Pakistan side is just not good enough as their team from the 90s. Certainly, they don’t seem to evoke the same memories of their counterparts from the 90s. There’s no Afridi, Akhtar, Wasim, Waqar, Saeed Anwar, Inzi, Saqlain, Imran or Miandad.

    So I think the quality has gone down but the flame of rivalry is still burning as strong as ever.

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