Sunday’s Asia Cup Twenty20 International between India and Pakistan in West Asia is not entirely about bragging rights, though these are part of the reason why there is so much fuss about it. Neither is it all that central to either side’s campaign in the T20 World Cup Australia will hold later this year, given that the conditions down under will be different from those the teams now cope with.
Also, the format is more a lottery than a well-thought-out arrangement allowing the fullest possible exhibition of all the skills and arts that make the game what it is at its best. You go to Tests for that. And artificially dwarfed varieties of cricket, regardless of their commercial, promotiondriven preponderance, are not meant to reward quality. Which implies that an Asia Cup triumph may not hint at continued success in the next competition.
And it certainly is not the glorious uncertainty of the game as we have long known it. The fact of the matter is that the more the game is tinkered with, the greater is the chance for quality to be dominated by chance. Sunday’s game is already a blockbuster yet, if only because it pits two teams that simply do not consider losing against one another an option. Hell’s foundations quiver after defeat, the seventh heaven is where the worshippers of the winners find themselves.
Or, so they think. There, of course, are times when victory comes with triumphal add-ons ~ Pakistan’s win in the teams’ previous match was their first in a World Cup showdown ~ and a loss can often come to be looked upon as the end of the world. Pakistan have had to fly back home in pre-dawn darkness and Chetan Sharma is still thought back to as the fall guy for a big, match-winning hit Javed Miandad spanked in Sharjah off his attempred yorker which had turned into a fulltoss.
For India, the game we await is another opportunity to assert cricketing superiority which, on this side of the border, is deemed the starting point of their allround domination of a game bankrolled by Indian commercial entities. Pakistan acknowledge being in arrears in the money game but refuse to grant India any cricket edge.
Quite obviously, both, in the context of the Sunday showdown, have their worries. India’s top-order batting is a source of mental discomfort, quite as much as the absence of the injured Jasprit Bumrah. Pakistan have their problems with middleorder batting and they too miss a paceman, Shahin Afridi. Spin is being projected as the likely key element, with India’s experience putting them a little ahead of their rivals.
But cricketing minutae, technical nittygritty and expertspeak have often been outweighed by psychological factors when India meet Pakistan. There is also the fact that some matches between these teams have been plagued by bookmakers. But the great subcontinental rivalry has a mystique all its own, surviving contrived matches and investigations. And thrills and spills punctuate a few emotionally charged hours.
A version of this story appears in the print edition of the August 28, 2022, issue.