Pakistan-India cricket match in US sets fans’ rivalry on fire 

karachi, pakistan — British author George Orwell once said, “Sports is war minus the shooting.” In modern sport, when we speak about the greatest rivalries, a cricket match between archrivals India and Pakistan truly lives up to the saying.

One such battle will occur Sunday in the T20 Cricket World Cup at the newly built Nassau Stadium in New York.

Unfortunately, there is space for just 34,000 spectators.

With armies of Indian and Pakistani fans ready to descend on the Big Apple, ticket prices are soaring. The tickets are reportedly selling for thousands of dollars each, but die-hard fans still go after them.

After all, both are former champions, India having won the title in 2007 and Pakistan two years later.

Legendary Pakistan fast bowler Wasim Akram believes India versus Pakistan is an ideal match for expats living in the United States.

“The interest and passion involved in this match – and of course, the matches in the USA – will also give Americans an idea of what cricket is all about, and they will get a hang of it,”  Akram told VOA.

“India versus Pakistan is the ultimate rivalry in cricket,” Pakistan’s former captain and batter Javed Miandad told VOA. “I always enjoyed the rivalry to the hilt, and even now, when I sit in front of the television to watch a current match, I feel amped and animated as if I am still playing.”

Such a game is fire versus fire, riveting to the last ball, as proved by the legendary batter Miandad’s six to seal a match in Sharjah nearly four decades ago and India’s sensational win inspired by Indian maestro Virat Kohli against Pakistan in Melbourne in the 2022 T20 World Cup.

And with long gaps due to political tension and play restricted to multinational events, the India-Pakistan contest keeps fans’ hunger unsated.

“A contest between India and Pakistan motivates players from both sides to give their best, because if you do well, you become an instant hero. It will be a unique experience for the fans in the USA,” Miandad said.

But the not-so-positive aspect is that since such matches are few and far between, many believe the sheen is coming off them. Indian batting supremo-turned-popular commentator Sunil Gavaskar believes other rivalries are taking over.

“The India-Pakistan contests used to be iconic some time back, but as far as India is concerned there is hardly any contest between India and Pakistan. The new iconic rivalry is India versus Australia,” Gavaskar, himself involved in some iconic Indo-Pak contests, told VOA.

His views may perturb some loyal fans in both countries, but Gavaskar always plays with a straight bat. Pakistan’s recent one-sided losses against India may become a bane in this rivalry.

India has won all eight ODI World Cup matches against Pakistan and has lost only one of seven T20 World Cup face-offs.

Meanwhile, after the upset defeat against the U.S., the match against India is a must win for Pakistan to qualify for the next round of the World Cup.

But results aside, the two uncompromising sets of players are never ready to give an inch to their rivals, for they know a defeat is unacceptable to their fans.

Those involved try to play it down by terming it “just another game,” but it is the opposite. A contest evoking such strong emotions that losing players get death threats cannot be “just another game.”

Ask Pakistan’s former captain, Akram, who could not return to his hometown, Lahore, after Pakistan lost to India in the quarterfinal of the 1996 World Cup — a match the left-arm pacer missed with a shoulder injury.

The bitter Pakistani fans accused him of faking the injury.

With so much sentiment involved, former Pakistan pacer Aqib Javed reckons an Indo-Pak game is special. “It’s more than a game,” he said. “Whichever side loses doesn’t swallow a defeat easily,” said the fast bowler whose seven-wicket haul in Sharjah in 1991 left Indian players and fans fuming.

Pakistan’s defeats against India in the 1999, 2003, 2011, 2019 and 2023 World Cups prompted inquiries to ascertain reasons for the losses and ended in major upheavals.

“No one accepts defeat in an India-Pakistan match,” former Pakistani fast bowler Wahab Riaz, who took five wickets in the 2011 semifinal defeat against India at Mohali, told VOA.

“It is not war, but it is very sentimental. Allegations were hurled at us after the defeat, but after all, it was a cricket match, and we lost by playing badly.”

India-Pakistan matches draw hundreds of millions of viewers in the two countries and among expats living around the world.

They comfortably surpass every other cricket event in terms of eyeballs and broadcast revenue. The International Cricket Council, the sport’s governing body, has repeatedly acknowledged wanting a schedule in which Pakistan and India play a match in the first round of a tournament.

Fans and organizers wish to see these archrivals in action again in the tournament’s knockout stage.

The big game in the Big Apple will create a big splash. 

This story originated in VOA’s South Central Asia Division.