It was cold, crisp morning. Blurs of blue and green filled the streets as fans made their pilgrimage to the holy grail of cricket matches. The game every fan dreams of being at, India vs. Pakistan.
The skies were grey but the atmosphere was far from it. The thundering sounds of dhol drums and chants flooded the stadium with a sense of nationalism. Armies of supporters filed into the ground pumped up and ready for one of, if not the most, historically intense clashes in cricket. Fans danced around the ground in vibrant dhoti kurtas and delicious thalis were being made at every corner. It was a morning to savour. Unfortunately the cricket was not.
The fierce rivalry that once existed between these two nations in every aspect of life may still exist off the field but it no longer exists on it. These matches still sit on a pedestal for fans as the match to win but even for the players it has become just another game. We saw no heated rivalry as Rohit Sharma picked up the ball from his feet and handed it back to the bowler. We saw more celebration from the crowd than the fielders as Pakistan stumbled to 164 in an almost ritualistic collapse. Emotions on the pitch seemed to be about as cold as the rain that kept stopping play. There was more rivalry between these two nations and Australia in the 2015 World Cup knock-outs than between each other on Sunday.
It all began well for Pakistan, they won the toss and put India in to bat on an overcast morning. With rain expected on and off through the day a revised target could well go in their favour. That’s about as far as their success went for the day. It seemed as though they forgot they were supposed to be playing an international cricket match that day. Their fielding was sloppy with point extravagantly diving over the ball and back-up fielders forgetting to back-up. Their field placements were defensive but their defences were weak. Pakistan’s leading wicket taker since 2015 wasn’t brought into the attack until the 9th over and both Wahab Riaz and Mohammed Amir couldn’t finish their overs. Their batting was worse and even though India fielded almost as badly at times, it looked as though a 4th XI club cricket team had turned up to the wrong venue and were told they would be playing first-class county cricket.
Given the vast difference between the two playing nations, it begs the question, is it still more important to thrash your oldest rival or have good competitive cricket even if your team sometimes doesn’t always come out on top? Cricket is not like many other sports. It’s rare to find a whole stadium clap the opposition for an incredible innings or an exceptional bowling spell. People appreciate the sport for the sport. Why do people remember the 2005 Ashes in particular? Because it was one the most competitive Ashes series (thanks mostly to an injured Glenn McGrath). Does anyone enjoy talking about the 2013/2014 Ashes when England were white-washed? When people think of India v Pakistan they think of GOAT vs. GOAT. Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid facing Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar. India have moved light years ahead in regards to their fielding and bowling they’ve become a well-rounded side and currently seem to find much fiercer competition against the likes of Australia than Pakistan.
Pakistan have talent. There is no doubt the nation was born for cricket. They play in the UAE, their ‘home away from home’ and yet still manage to produce some of the best fast bowlers in the world. Their domestic cricket is decades behind that of England and India yet on a good day they’re competitive as any. Only today Hasan Ali picked up three wickets and Pakistan reduced the world number one ODI side to 219/8 from 50 overs. South Africa seemed to be struggling and Pakistan looked well and truly like an internationally competitive side. Pakistan have a long way to go and the PCB should take this as a chance to reflect and look at their domestic cricket, learn from it, and come back stronger in 2019 ready to once again make this match the GOAT vs. GOAT.