If Sunday’s India-Pakistan face-off in the Twenty20 World Cup in West Asia is “just another match,” as Virat Kohli has said, you can read a very familiar and all too transparent ploy to get the psychological pressure inherent in it off his boys.
“Can it really have them swaggering about with a song on their lips and a spring in their steps?” Is the question you ask yourself and arrive, in a nanosecond, at the conclusion that it is about as impossible as a walk on a sea. Or, even a river. Factor One is India have not pitted themselves against Pakistan for quite a long while, with bilateral contests suspended for diplomatic and political reasons.
A sudden spurt in the Kashmir unrest and its allied complications – which prompted calls apparently attributable to impassioned patriotism for pulling out of this game – have unfailingly added a lot to the confrontational ambience, constituting Factor Two.
The we-must-havethem grovelling demand will be screamed on both sides of the border, reaching the players’ eyes and ears in diverse ways, including social media. Factor Three is television, whose all-pervasive, irresistibly invasive influence comes dovetailed with its everactive commercial impulse, making the audio- visual concoction, with its 24×7 avalanche of advertisements, a dominant source of soft power in making and unmaking things.
It can whip virtually anyone into a frenzy. And Twenty20’s customary unpredictability is Factor Four, which leaves the combatants in a fair-and-square game wary of fortuitous, or calamitous, split-second drama.
Test cricket calls for heightened levels of player endurance, quite apart from a broader range of skills for time-appropriate exhibition of the various aspects of batting and bowling, with quality eventually separating the better from the inferior.
But Twenty20 shows how shocks proliferate as the game gets shorter, with the current tournament starting with Scotland upsetting Test-playing Bangladesh.
It was doubtless not akin to Man making it to the moon but the basic idea of Twenty20’s idiosyncratic ways was once again driven home as the southern Asians, having fallen in well-demonstrated love for cricket on the rebound from football, which had given them nothing, lost to a country not really known for its proficiency in the bat-and-ball game.
So neither India nor Pakistan could have been insouciantly carefree as they went about their business in the run-up to the big day, when, as they knew quite well, to lose was to be popularly condemned to bottomless perdition.
Also to be reckoned with is the stark fact that India and Pakistan, for all the intolerantly martial rhetoric around their cricketing confrontations, have played fixed matches galore, quite a few of them in West Asia, which did not play the game but offered pots of gold to a galaxy of former stalwarts.
Persistent allegations of corruption had led to Indian teams steering clear of the region but Covid-19 took us back there as officialdom decided that the coronavirus and cricket must co-exist even if the Indian Premier League’s bio bubble was not secure enough.