When India took on Pakistan in the quarter final of the 1996 World Cup at Bangalore, the exhilaration around the game was palpable and the atmosphere was never before seen. Cricket fever was at its peak back in the 90’s and India playing Pakistan was something every cricket fan from either country looked up to. This was irrespective of whether the match had any influence or the ongoing series on not. All that mattered was the Indian supporters wanted their team to win at any cost and the same was the case with fans from Pakistan.
Sadly, there is no such hullaballoo as India and Pakistan clash in the Champions Trophy game at Birmingham. Agreed, the match is a virtual dead rubber with Pakistan having been knocked out and India already having progressed to the semi-finals. But, as mentioned above, there was a time when supporters from either sides of the border did not need a specific reason to get excited. The fact that the two teams would be battling it out in the middle was enough to get them going. This was a time when Indo-Pak games were referred to as ‘wars’ between the two sides.
What’s changed then? Times for sure, but situations as well. The last time that an India versus Pakistan clash generated the kind of hoopla it deserves was around a decade ago, when the two sides battled it out at Centurion during the 2003 World Cup. It was a match that truly lived up to the hype. In fact, the Indian players spoke of how they got messages from fans stating that whatever they do, they shouldn’t lose the match against Pakistan. It was the kind of pressure that would have given any player goose bumps. But, India actually used the atmosphere to their advantage.
Although India beat Pakistan in the 2011 World Cup semi-final as well, there was nothing memorable about the match. The lack of ‘characters’ in both sides could be the reason. In 1996 you had Aamir Sohail and Venkatesh Prasad electrifying things, and in 2003 the Shoaib Akhtar-Sachin Tendulkar clash was much-publicised, and followed with greater interest. These matches also provided quality contests. Sadly, in recent times, mediocrity has taken over. Tendulkar was the man of the match in the 2011 World Cup game, but he was dropped as many as four times before getting there. In fact, sometime later, the match was marred with fixing allegations.
Another reason probably has contributed to the dwindling interest in Indo-Pak games. There was a phase in the mid-2000’s when the two teams were playing each other more than usual just like India and Sri Lanka do these days. Many of those games were meaningless, which gradually led to the decline in the quality of matches. The intensity factor also reduced as more and more games were played between the arch-rivals. Of course, there was a long gap in between again. But the exhilaration of Indo-Pak ‘wars’ was pretty much lost by the time the ties resumed recently. Not surprisingly then, many might view the latest India versus Pakistan clash as just another cricket match.
--By A Cricket Analyst