Asia Cup Twenty20, a jackpot for India-Pakistan fans in Dubai

By G. Viswanath

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India's captain Rohit Sharma (R) and Pakistan's captain Babar Azam. Photo: AFP

Dubai: The Asian Cricket Council has to be given a pat on its back for rostering a schedule that brings an overdose of a contest between India and Pakistan. The arch-rivals will lock horns twice, and possibly a third time, should they enter the final of the Asia Cup Twenty20 tournament that will end on September 11. It's truly a jackpot for the local fans who make a living here. For political reasons, India and Pakistan have ceased to engage themselves in a bilateral series featuring Test matches, one-day internationals and Twenty20 internationals.

While Pakistan has been pushing hard for an exchange of visits, the Board of Control for India is not even batting an eyelid at any suggestions from its counterparts from across the border to resume ties. It’s been close to fifteen years since India and Pakistan played a Test match, the last happening in Bangalore in December 2007. And India played its last Test in Pakistan's Karachi in February 2006.

Off and on though, the two teams have clashed in white ball cricket, both ODIs and Twenty20 matches of the ICC’s signature events. India and Pakistan played in 132 ODIs in which India won 55 and lost 73, while in the Twenty20 format the numbers are small, but India enjoys a better record with seven wins in nine matches.

The two teams are now in one of the popular Emirate for the Continental tournament, a sort of a precursor to the ICC Men’s Twenty20 World Cup in Australia in October- November. There has always been a buzz around these matches and the expatriates here, the majority of whom are from cricket-crazy countries, are excited about the clash between the Rohit Sharma led Indian team and the Babar Azam led Pakistan team.

An India - Pakistan contest in a cricket match, has on occasion, ended in a scrap, nay a humdinger. Especially in these parts. The most classic example is that of the last ball six hit by Javed Miandad off medium pacer Chetan Sharma in the final of the Australasian Cup at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium in April 1986. Generally, Pakistan has been the top performer here against India from 1984 onwards, winning 18 of the 24 matches played at the Emirate of Sharjah which is a few minutes' drive from Dubai. India has won only six.

At around four in the late afternoon on Sunday, the stands were beginning to get filled up and chants of -- 'India jeethega' and 'Pakistan jeethega' -- rent from the partisan crowd. Different generations of supporters of the two countries have played the role of cheer groups, which is normal in any sporting contests where countries are involved. But what could be palpable is the diminishing animosity between the people who come to watch the match wearing the India and Pakistan jersey.

At least the captains of the two teams here, Rohit Sharma and Babar Azam, believe a match between their sides is only a normal sporting contest. Sharma was asked about meeting the Pakistan fans after a training session and he said:" It may be unusual for you, not for us. We have been seeing this for so many years. The fans want to see a game and at the same time, they want to meet the players Meeting the fans is normal. Before every tournament, and before every match, the teams practice together and meet. You can hype the match; we will focus on the game."

And Babar Azam said: "We interact with each other as sportspersons and we chat with players of other teams as well. it is normal. The world awaits for an India-Pakistan match and they enjoy the cricket. We try our best to play good cricket and make them happy with our performance."

There is a larger interest this time around because of the outcome of last year's World Twenty20 match here between the two nations. Two great deliveries from left-arm seamer Shaheen Shah Afridi shaped the one-sided nature of the match that Pakistan won by ten wickets. After that win Pakistan is confident and so are its fans.

Test matches between India and Pakistan gave often been lacklustre, with the two playing 59 Tests. Pakistan has won 12 and India nine. It's the white ball games, especially in the ICC and ACC competitions that have sustained interest on either side of the border.

K.R. Nayar, who was raised in Thiruvananthapuram and who has seen the development of the game in the UAE for three decades says of India- Pakistan matches here: " It is the tournaments at Sharjah that intensified the India-Pakistan cricket rivalry through the exciting matches held there from the early eighties. Almost every contest between these two nations was keenly fought. The loud cheers of the fans from both teams virtually brought the roofs of the stadiums down. There was always a capacity crowd for India-Pakistan matches. Many cricketers have confessed that it is the cheers of the crowd here that has motivated them to give their best.

"Even though it was at Sharjah that the fierce contests between these two nations began, the intensity never got reduced even when matches were held in Dubai and even in Abu Dhabi. Being a neutral venue the pitch has been neutral for both teams and that resulted in the contests being exciting all the time. Everyone got to witness the best of skills being displayed by the players of both the teams."

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