Cover Story


June 19 -25, 2019

Gulf Weekly Naman Arora
By Naman Arora


The most anticipated match of the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup 2019 between India and Pakistan attracted a global TV audience of one billion people and digitally united South Asian expats living in the kingdom.

Many settled in front of their smart phones, some waited for text messages and others gathered at expat clubs on Sunday as all eyes focused on the action staged at Manchester’s Old Trafford Stadium in England.

As far as results go, since the start of the ICC World Cup, India had won all six previous World Cup matches against Pakistan and they did it again despite the rain trying to spoil play. Ramesh Swami, a 61-year old Indian flooring business manager based in Salmaniya, who watched the match at the Indian Club with friends and ‘virtually’ with his 91-year-old father back home in India, celebrated Father’s Day with a mutual love of the game. “We had to share the moment and were speaking throughout the game,” he explained.

It is estimated around 290,000 Indian expats call Bahrain their home and more than 100,000 Pakistani expats also live in the kingdom and, most, if not all, followed the game as best they could on what was a normal work day here, rather than a day of leisure in Europe or back home.

It’s not known if any cricket-lovers from Bahrain were lucky enough to secure any of 26,000 seats at the stadium. Tickets sold out within hours of going on sale, with some ardent followers reportedly paying almost BD2,000 for match and airplane tickets to attend from the region.

And, fans almost lost their investment as dark clouds loomed overhead, which could have forced a draw in a city renowned for its wet weather.

Both teams have been forced to accept draws earlier during this competition due to washed-out conditions – Pakistan in its match against Australia and India in its duel against New Zealand.

Ramesh called it the ‘spoilsport’ factor.

But the show went on, despite fits and starts due to showers, or fear thereof, with much fanfare and cheers drowning out the rotors of the helicopters summoned to dry out the pitch.

After losing the toss, India batted first, racking up 336 for 5 in 50 overs on a wet pitch – a record for a one-day international at Old Trafford.

Indian cricketer Rohit Sharma scored his second century of the World Cup and Captain Virat Kohli put up 77 runs before a caught ball led to a contentious call by the umpire and a potentially unnecessary walk-off by Kohli, which prompted calls on Twitter to reward him the Noble Peace Prize for not reacting.

Pakistan started its batting spell in the evening chasing a monumental target before rain stopped play again after 35 overs. Because of the late start to the match, the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern (DLS) method was employed to give them an adjusted target of 302 from 40 overs. This meant they had to score an insurmountable 136 runs in 5 overs, which they were unable to do, despite bold efforts by Fakhar Zaman and Imad Wasim. Pakistan was always behind the run-rate required.

So India extended its record to 7-0 against Pakistan at World Cups with an 89-run victory in an encounter that likely will remain the most-watched game of the

six-week tournament.

Pakistani expat, Sajid Butt, 49, an owner of an electronics business who lives in Manama, found the Pakistan team to be ‘tense’ and disagreed with the call to bowl first, agreeing with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s suggestion that setting a target by batting first would have been a smarter strategy.

India-Pakistan is not merely the biggest fixture in cricket; it has a fair claim to being the biggest in all of sport. The geographical proximity, sibling-like rivalry and occasional tensions between the two countries, always make this the loudest and most-watched match at the World Cup.

Fans of the underdog, Pakistan, often go to exorbitant ends to prepare for a victory, no matter how far-fetched it may seem. Some showed up with a white horse on which to ride away victorious, while others prepare victory parties with lots of fireworks and festivities, which end up happening anyways, albeit with a more sombre tone.

The Pakistani fans in Bahrain generally watched the match in their living rooms, while many Indian fans met at the Indian Club and other restaurants, some of which ran special promotions based around the match.

Despite the rivalry and historical tension between the countries, a love of cricket brings the communities together. Sajid emphasised that it was after all, just a game and gave the two communities a chance to bond over an exhilarating fixture.

Paul Culas, 44, who lives in Gufool, said that especially when living away from home, cricket seems to connect the communities in a supportive and positive way.

S. Amjad Hussain, an emeritus professor of surgery and humanities at the University of Toledo, agrees.

Pakistan and India’s cricket rivalry goes back to their independence in 1947. They have played cricket not as much for the sake of the game but to either redeem or enhance the national honour.

But it does not translate in animosity between the peoples of both countries, he said. “While on the cricket field the decidedly partisan crowd roots for their country’s team, off the field the people are friendly and extremely hospitable to each other,” added S. Amjad.

“In the past people from one country while visiting the other to watch a cricket match, were consistently received with open arms.

“Cricket has also played an important role in diffusing tensions between India and Pakistan. In 1987 the countries were on the verge of war that neither country wanted. Considering that both countries have nuclear weapons, it was important to defuse the situation.

“India was poised to play Pakistan on home turf. The Pakistani strongman General Zia ul Haq seized the opportunity and let India know that he would like to visit India and watch the match. As a result the tensions eased and somehow cricket saved the day.

“On another occasion in 2005 President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan went to see the two countries play in India and the visit to see the match turned into a summit of sorts between the leaders of the two countries.”

India and Pakistan appear to have been on war footing toward each other ever since their independence from Great Britain in 1947 and they have fought three inconclusive wars over the disputed northern Himalayan territory of Kashmir. But still they find cricket as a means to ratchet down tensions. One Indian supporter at the recent match in London sported a T-shirt that said that the ‘Winner Takes Kashmir’.

For such an intense rivalry, it’s still a lopsided contest when India and Pakistan meet at the Cricket World Cup. Since nothing has worked to resolve the festering Kashmir issue, S. Amjad suggested, perhaps they should bet Kashmir on their next encounter on the cricket field … as long as it’s not a World Cup match.


Editor’s note:

Pakistan’s next match will be against South Africa this coming Sunday and the team will have to win all four of its upcoming matches to make it to the semi-finals. India, which has a perfect record so far, plays Afghanistan this coming Saturday.

This was the 22nd match of the World Cup, which has 10 teams from around the world competing for the coveted trophy, Australia defending their 2015 title and England hoping for a home advantage.

GulfWeekly’s new recruit, New Delhi-born reporter Naman Arora, said that while he is expected to root for the Indian team, he has always had an affinity for the underdogs and rookies, no matter how insurmountable the odds. With that in mind, ‘go Afghanistan!’

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