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ICC Cricket World Cup 2015: India v Pakistan - What's all the fuss about?

As India and Pakistan get ready to get their World Cup campaigns underway, here's an alternative narrative questioning whether this particular game is actually as big as everyone seems to be suggesting.

CONTRIBUTOR
Feature 14 Feb 2015, 17:24 IST
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MS Dhoni of India (L) and Misbah-ul-Haq of Pakistan look on during the Opening Ceremony ahead of the ICC 2015 Cricket World Cup at Sidney Myer Music Bowl on February 12, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia.
 

The build-up to the much-hyped semi-final contest between the eternal rivals India and Pakistan in the 2011 edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup matched the hype this fixture usually garners. The host television network for the event left little unturned in their desperate looking pursuit of setting new records in television viewership. 

The staged gig in 2011

In one of those staged gigs that are so unabashedly sold as spontaneous, the host broadcasters pitted two of the more recognizable faces from the fans representing both factions against each other - India’s tricolor clad Sudhir Kumar Gautam and Pakistan’s iconic Chacha Abdul Jalil.

Over the two-minute segment, the two gentlemen – quite visibly overwhelmed with the unexpected attention, hardly said anything anyone having tuned in didn’t already know. But to absolutely nobody’s surprise, the presenters, the commentary clique made up of former stars from both nations and a host of other major news outlets carried countless reruns of those clippings in their boisterous attempts of reiterating to us the ‘intensity’ and ‘fervour’ that this rivalry begets.

Of course, the semi-final would still have managed those outlandishly handsome looking TRP stats but that’s not how the parallel industries feeding off cricket work. That’s not how the strength of column inches is measured. That’s not how the desired internet clicks are generated. 

It won’t be unfair to suggest the social landscape in the age of consumerism has been a rapidly changed one and that a range of our emotions are governed, manipulated and probably even manufactured by the whims and fancies of a handful marketers. An intelligent brand in the digital age is the one that is quick to contextualize the currency of public mood. Now factor in their access to new media tools and it’s hardly unthinkable anymore for brands to peddle in artificial sentiments selling them as naturally occurring ones.

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India’s superior H2H record against Pakistan

India and Pakistan – the moment the two names are spoken of in the same breath, inevitably the political connotations are tossed in to offer intellectual validity to the argument. The history between the countries has been anything but amicable and despite the striking cultural and behavioral similarities, the animosity between people at large persists quite strongly. Now, the political leveraging of these tensions is an argument for a different forum and so let’s stick to cricket.

The World Cup is undoubtedly the biggest event in cricket and is surely a celebration of the sport we adore in this part of the world. Cricket has often been criticized for having failed to offer context to a large number of games played around the calendar. Once every four years, the World Cup, among other things, offers context, adds relevance to the games, adds merit to the contests, and so the achievements at this stage will definitely outweigh those produced at lesser events and shall arm you with significantly more strength in a banter situation.

It’s therefore not one bit surprising that the Indians hold the five-upmanship over Pakistan at the World Cups very dear to themselves and to put it very bluntly, the Pakistanis have little to offer in counter. That the overall stats argument doesn’t read very kindly of the Indians, doesn’t really hold much merit since a general consensus about the World Cup achievements being that much more relevant prevails in the cricketing community. Even the hipsters don’t tend to disagree about that.

Is it really a ‘World Cup’?

But then, there’s a caveat here. Much as we love our sport, it’s still largely perceived as a show of commonwealth elitism and by no means can be labeled a world sport. The name ‘World Cup’ therefore is an attempt at blatantly overstating cricket’s reach and inflating its status by a few notches too many. And let’s not fool ourselves; there are only so many contenders for the knockout rounds in this competition.

The fundamental flaw in the tournament’s format ensures any event of uncertainty or surprise is taken out of the equation and that the marketers’ interests do not dip one bit with the tournament progressing to latter stages. Remember the hit the tournament revenues took the last time India and Pakistan failed to move past the first round at a World Cup?

But that’s digressing. This is as big as it gets in cricket and therefore a contest involving the fiercest rivals in the sport at this stage does warrant a build-up of superlative proportions. Sure. Except for the fact that on each of the previous five occasions India and Pakistan have been involved in a World Cup duel, the result has had tremendous bearings on either side’s fortunes in the competition. 

Why the hype isn’t worth it

There’ve been two knock-out games with everything put on the line, another one at the now discontinued super-six stage where a victory meant huge deal to both sides, another one in a round-robin format, and only one group stage fixture with Pakistan’s progress hanging in jeopardy in a format where the big teams were meant to do more than merely participate to secure a qualification to further rounds.

Each of those results had plenty of meaning and relevance and every bit of razzmatazz created around those fixtures therefore stood fully justified. In contrast, the hoopla around the 2015 World Cup game between the two sides feels like a show of cocky exaggeration. Neither team has got anything at stake in this game from an objective vantage point. Sure, finishing top of the group is an added incentive but doesn’t really amount to much in the current format.

Barring the fickle sentiments of the two noisy sets of fans, there’s nothing to play for in Adelaide despite that lobby of marketers having invested a fortune suggesting otherwise. Not that a cricketing spectacle of high quality ever hurts, but there’s some dire need for developing a perspective here. Just get done with the game already. And make that announcement of new records of TV viewership and digital subscriptions being set, too, while we’re at it.

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