The immortal India-Pakistan cricket rivalry
Updated Saturday Oct 14 2023
India and Pakistan emerged as two separate nations in 1947 but perhaps their cricket rivalry goes way back to the Bombay Quadrangular — a tournament consisting of ‘Europeans’, ‘Parsis’, ‘Hindus’, and ‘Muslims’ teams, held in 1912.
The ‘Hindus’ and ‘Muslims’ vying for success was the hallmark of that competition. By the 1930s the tournament had become hugely popular among the masses.
CK Nayudu and Lala Amarnath represented 'Hindus' and Wazir Ali, Amir Elahi, Mushtaq Ali, and Mohammad Nissar playing for 'Muslims' had become household names. They were the first cricket superstars of the Indian subcontinent.
After the partition, before India and Pakistan could contest on a cricket field they had gone to war in Kashmir in 1947. In October 1952 Pakistan team led by Abdul Hafeez Kardar embarked on their first Test tour to India and officially the cricket rivalry between the two nations began.
Cricket has proven to be more than just a game in the sub-continent – it is worshipped on both sides of the border. In 1987 this ‘gentleman’s game’ had averted a possible war between the two nations when Pakistan ruler Gen Zia-ul-Haq landed in New Delhi and surprised the world.
He dined with the prime minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, and later flew to Jaipur to watch a session of a Test match, played between India and Pakistan. At the time, both nations were on the verge of a skirmish on the border, but Zia’s cricket diplomacy worked wonders and things came to normal in no time.
The Indo-Pak cricket rivalry also sowed a seed of cricket in the desert – the UAE. In 1981, Sunil Gavaskar XI (India) and Javed Miandad XI (Pakistan) played an exhibition match in Sharjah and some 8000 expatriates hailing from both nations thronged to Sharjah Stadium.
And the rest as they say is history.
Interestingly, despite an intense rivalry, some enthusiasts of the game have been fascinated with the idea of making a combined eleven consisting of Indian and Pakistani players.
In 1996 it became a reality when Australia and West Indies refused to send their teams to Sri Lanka for their World Cup matches due to the security situation in Pearl Island. To show solidarity with their co-host Sri Lanka, the cricket boards of India and Pakistan decided to send a combined eleven to play a match against the hosts.
Fans’ love and hate
They say all is fair in love and war and the Indo-Pak fans are firm believers in that. A deep-rooted rivalry can make you do funny things — love, hate, or perhaps do both simultaneously with immense zeal.
They would shower love and affection on the opposition players — Indian cricketers Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, and Virat Kohli in Pakistan and Pakistan players Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, and Zaheer Abbas in India— but an odd overly ‘patriotic’ emotional fan would also not shy away from harming them.
In 1960, during a tour match in Baroda, an Indian fan wearing a sharp ring shook Hanif Mohammad’s hand so he would miss the subsequent Test due to injury. Similarly, in 1989, in Pakistan, a spectator ran onto the field and attacked Indian captain Krish Srikanth, both exchanged a few blows, and in the end, Srikanth was left with a torn shirt.
In 1987 six Pakistan team members had to wear helmets while fielding near the boundary line to save themselves from stones hurled at them from the stands in the Ahmedabad Test match. While on the other side of the coin, the Chennai crowd gave a standing ovation to the Pakistan team after Pakistan beat India in the thrilling Chennai Test in 1999.
Kohli or Babar?
There was a time when a rookie Indian fast bowler bursting on the international scene with a mere 135+ kmph speed was immediately compared to a Pakistani speedster. The tide has turned now. Pakistan’s best batsman — Babar Azam is compared to Virat Kohli every time he goes out to bat.
Personality-wise Babar and Kohli are poles apart but an average fan in Pakistan wants to see the former act, play, and captain the team like the latter.
Cricketers from all over the world play IPL, except India's ‘neighbour’ Pakistan
In the recent past India and Pakistan have been acting like a couple who had a breakup — where one person throws a big party (Indian Premier League) every year and invites everyone except the ex who regrettably is also a next-door neighbour.
Every year cricketers from all over the cricketing world play IPL — the most lucrative franchise cricket league, except the ‘neighbour’ Pakistan players.
Rivalry on hold
With time, to put it metaphorically, the Indo-Pak rivalry became as high as the Siachin glacier and as deep as the Arabian Sea. But in the past decade or so, due to strained political relations between the two nations, both countries have not competed in a bilateral series.
They have not played a Test match since December 2007 in Bengaluru and an ODI match in a bilateral series since January 2013 in Delhi. So whenever both nations play at the ICC (International Cricket Council) or an ACC (Asian Cricket Council) event it is a storm after a lull — both nations are set to lock horns again in the World Cup match in Ahmedabad, India.
After the 2019 ODI World Cup match between the two nations in which India beat Pakistan by a stupendous margin of 89 runs; many, predominantly from the Indian side believed that once touted as the greatest rivalry in the world of cricket has died a death.
In their recent encounter in the Asia Cup (ODI) match, India thrashed Pakistan by beating them by 228 runs
Trans-Tasman cricket rivalry goes back to 1945. Australia and New Zealand have been rivals in many sporting events, but if we just consider cricket then Australia has been way ahead by a long shot in both Tests and ODIs. The rivalry remains intact — though, not as big as ‘Ashes’ or ‘India vs Pakistan’.
Also, since that World Cup match in Manchester, the two teams came face to face in four T20 encounters (World Cup and Asia Cup matches), with Pakistan winning two times which helped bring back some parity between the two teams. However, in their recent encounter in the Asia Cup (ODI) match, India thrashed Pakistan by beating them by 228 runs.
Pakistan team got a warm welcome when they landed in India. Cricket fans on both sides of the border and the rest of the world eagerly waited for the ‘big match’, which is being played at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad today.
There is a usual ‘buzz’ — people are passionately talking about this contest. They don’t create buzz about dead things. Do they?
No, the Indo-Pak rivalry is immortal after all.
Saqib M Hussain is a freelance journalist who writes on sports and pop culture. He tweets @CaughtAtPoint