Every time India and Pakistan face each other in a cricket match, the media starts talking about the 'great rivarly' between two teams. The same thing happened before the two teams faced off in the ICC 2019 World Cup. This match was described as the biggest game of the entire event, a 'final before the final' and everything else that can be used to denote its superior value compared to every other match.
But a serious if somewhat provocative question needs to be asked: Is India vs Pakistan really a great rivalry? Some may say that it has been a great rivalry but has lost its sheen due to the growing gulf between the two sides. But was it ever a great rivalry? Did it ever produce the kind of thrilling encounters that Ashes has done? Has it created the kind of excitement India vs Australia series did?
The blunt answer to this is: a big fat NO. India vs Pakistan is not an exciting prospect any more than an India vs Sri Lanka game. In fact, the only Asian team which looks likely to challenge India is Bangladesh. An India vs Bangladesh match is a far more exciting prospect than a game between the supposed arch-rivals.
The fact is that India vs Pakistan rivalry was never that good. It has never really produced the kind of great matches which all the hype would suggest. The Test series in the past between these two teams were notorious for producing boring draws. The reasons are not hard to understand.
It is not a rivalry grounded in sports. The reason games between the two teams have evoked such strong emotions is because of the political tensions existing between the two nations since their independence. Unlike Ashes, this rivalry wasn't born out of a sporting contest. India vs Pakistan was a big occasion simply because the fans on both sides saw these matches as a proxy war between two countries. They saw national pride at stake, in a way similar to, but much more evocative than, the contests between USA and USSR in various sports during the Cold War.
But this had a huge negative impact. It meant that the fear of losing was way bigger than the desire to win in both teams. Since losing would be seen as a national embarrassment, the teams and the players were desperate to avoid being guilty of bringing shame on the nation. The fans too, saw it this way. Nari Contractor, former India captain, mentioned in an interview that when he was about to lead his team into a Test series against Pakistan, he received a letter from an Indian fan saying that his team shouldn't lose, otherwise he would be killed.
So, the team playing host used to demand flat wickets where they can bat themselves into safety and avoid losing. The results were highly boring draws where batsmen from both sides used to fill their boots.
Not the real contest
This is the difference between Ashes and India vs Pakistan contests. The former involves two teams – Australia and England – trying to win, trying to 'gain' the Ashes. Whereas in India against Pakistan, the focus was always on not losing. But over the last few years, India has emerged as one of the fastest growing nations in the world while Pakistan has suffered the ignominy of being seen as a terror state which is surviving on Chinese largesse. This means that Indians no longer think of an India vs Pakistan game as a matter of national pride. Perhaps this relaxed attitude has made Indian teams play with confidence and not fear.
If one looks at these matches over the last few years, they have been completely one-sided and devoid of any excitement. The last time these two teams played an exciting game was at the 2014 Asia Cup where Shahid Afridi's big sixes in the last over against Ravichandran Ashwin sealed a memorable victory for his team. Since then, it has been one lop-sided contest after another.
So, let's end this nonsensical hype of India vs Pakistan. It was never a sporting rivalry and never an exciting one. With India being way ahead of Pakistan in every parameter of growth and being the cynosure of all eyes, a victory on the cricket field is no longer necessary for national self-confidence. Let's instead focus on teams like England, Australia and Bangladesh. It's against them that the real fight takes place.