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.
IT’S NOT JUST CRICKET….IT’S BIGGER THAN THAT
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.
SAFETY, SAFETY, SAFETY
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?
INDIA VS PAKISTAN RANKLES ON ONE-DAY LEVEL, TOO.
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.
SO IS THERE A SOLUTION?
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.