When India and Pakistan clash in the ICC Champions Trophy one-day final in London on Sunday, the Oval will become a virtual battlefield for thousands of fans gathered at the stadium and millions watching it live on TV.
Every India-Pakistan final is a dream match that evokes both enthusiasm and hatred among fans because of their historical rivalry on and off the field. This is more so now when Indian and Pakistani soldiers are killed in clashes almost every second day along the Line of Control in Kashmir, while terrorists target camps of the Indian army and police in the valley and elsewhere.
As a result of these incidents many people had opposed India’s participation in the International Cricket Council Champions Trophy, which is held every four years. But cricket is a religion for Indians, players are treated like gods and the nation decided it should defend the title it had won in 2013.
Those who advocate peace in India and Pakistan believe sporting events such as this tournament will help improve ties between the countries, which had been virtually in a state of war for decades.
For their part, cricket fans feel such matches can help build bridges of friendship, an achievement that peace negotiators of the two countries could not do in three decades.
But this group, however, ignore the fact that cricket is no longer the leisurely game it once was. It is in a new era in which power has replaced grace and speed, and results count more than skill. Betting and match-fixing rackets have exposed the dark underbelly of what used to be a gentleman’s game.
Cricket matches may cause more ill-will and animosity between India and Pakistan when more than a billion fans cheer one side and jeer the other.
At the Oval, a loss for either side will carry far more weight than simply losing the ICC Champions Trophy. There is more at stake with India and Pakistan eager to claim victory in London.
It is a question of honor and prestige for the neighboring nations. Losing the one-day match will be akin to a major insult, humiliation and shame for either nation. The hordes of faithful fans who have followed their team’s path to the final will never forgive them if they lose.
It would be more unnerving for the bowlers, batsmen, and fielders of both India and Pakistan to be surrounded by excited or infuriated spectators roaring or booing their every move.
Every loose ball, uppish shot, dropped catch, run-out or missed stumping will be keenly examined and may even stain a player’s reputation or damage his career.
Will players resort to pushing the boundaries of fair play? Will they employ rough tactics that could possibly ruin the spectacle of a cricket final? No can say for sure, but these questions will be answered on Sunday.
The umpires will also come under pressure to ensure fair play. If a team loses, its supporters will blame it on bad umpiring or accuse players of throwing the match and branding them as traitors.
Fans should remember such actions are unfair and unwarranted, and that this is a sport on a cricket pitch not a battle in the field of war. Due credit should be given to whomever are crowned the victors and applause for the losing side.
Another matter of concern will not only be the victory celebrations back in the home country of the winners and the outpouring of despair for the losers. But in Muslim majority Kashmir, celebrations by some if Pakistan win may raise tensions and even spark violence that could spread to cities such as Mumbai or Ahmedabad.
Fans should proudly watch their teams in action instead of indulging in jingoism and shouting foul-mouthed chants, which will only fan the flames of hate. Leave the violence outside the ground and let’s enjoy the gentleman’s game.