Asia Cup: Rivalry big but cricket binds India & Pak players

India-Pak rivalry thing of fans as players ride on mutual admirations
Pakistan and Indian players greet each other after the Asia Cup cricket match between India and Pakistan was called off due to rain. (Photo | PTI)
Pakistan and Indian players greet each other after the Asia Cup cricket match between India and Pakistan was called off due to rain. (Photo | PTI)

PALLEKELE: It was around 12:30 pm when four Pakistan fans checked into a hotel in Kandy, Sri Lanka on Saturday. They flew out of Singapore to Colombo and took a three-hour road journey to Kandy. Travel fatigue was visible on their faces but that did not deter them from heading directly to the stadium in Pallekele, another half an hour drive, to take a glimpse of their favourite cricketers.

India versus Pakistan match usually evokes uncontrollable emotions. Over the years, the rivalry has just grown, sometimes it has turned rabid too. The rivalry that is weaved into our geo-political and socio-cultural fabric, at times transcends into something more intense. Losing is not the word to be uttered.

For the Pakistan fans though, time was at a premium. They decided to order anything that can be served fast before keeping their luggage in the rooms. As they were heading towards the restaurant, one of them shouted, “We have to wear green guys,” making it clear that they are in the Island Nation to root for their team against arch-rivals India in the 2023 Asia Cup.

Almost a four-hour flight journey followed by the road trip could be tiring. But fatigue was least of their concern. If at all, they were worried about something, it was the rain threat that's looming over the match.

Just a couple days ago, a father and son duo reached Sri Lanka to watch India play. They did not want to miss this opportunity and would want to watch the India versus Pakistan match during the World Cup as well. Though they reached well ahead of the match, they too were worried about the weather. They were bleeding blue on Saturday.

Like them, hundreds of fans from both the countries have flocked to this beautiful city, in the heart of the island. The verdant vegetation, interspersed with manicured tea gardens, adds to the charm of this place. The match visitors though have more than just the natural beauty in their mind. It's India versus Pakistan and as expected both men in blue and green started converging on to the venue from early morning, hours before the contest was scheduled to begin. Fans also formed their respective groups and poured their wholehearted support for their respective teams.

Hidden behind the garb of this freakish rivalry, is mutual respect, especially within both the teams. Even though there are no bilateral series between the two countries, yet they know each other. Whenever they meet, there seems to be enough camaraderie left between that it spills onto the field.

On Friday, when the teams met during practice session they hugged, chatted and joked. They speak the same language, eat the same food (most of them) and revere the same sport. Pakistan captain Babar Azam once again said during an interaction how a chat with India’s batting great Virat Kohli early in his career helped to mould himself as a better player. 

The video of interaction among the players from the two teams was posted by the Pakistan Cricket Board on a social media platform and it went viral in a few minutes. Kohli having a light-hearted conversation with Pakistan pacer Haris Rauf, skipper Rohit Sharma meeting his Pakistani counterpart Babar and batter Imam-ul-Haq. Rauf also spoke to Indian pacer Mohammed Siraj. While the two fast bowlers spoke about the conditions and how to make use of them, it was the talk between Kohli and Rauf that won the hearts.

"Jidhar se gujarta hu, 'Kohli-Kohli' kehte hai (Wherever I go, people say ‘Kohli-Kohli’),” Rauf told Kohli. The former India captain, however, advised him, "Keep going brother, there are big tournaments coming up." He also enquired about Rauf's fitness. Notably, the two were involved in a thriller at the T20 World Cup in Australia. India defeated Pakistan in the last over as Kohli smashed an unbeaten 82, hitting Rauf for two consecutive sixes.

Captains from both the sides also played down the rivalry factor ahead of the match and termed it fans’ thing, emphasising that among them it’s all about mutual respect. Speaking on the subject, Rohit said, "Rivalry is there for people to talk about. But for us, we don't want to look into all those kinds of things. We have an opposition to play tomorrow (Saturday), how we can come up against them, how we can perform, how we can get the things that we want to do right and focus on those kinds of things rather than looking at all sorts of other things, which eventually is not going to help you."

Babar was specifically asked about Kohli and the non-ending comparison between them. "I can't comment on the debate. Let's leave that to (the fans). There should be mutual respect. He is older than me and I respect him. I have learned a lot from him. I have said earlier that when I started (international cricket) I spoke to him and it helped me a lot," Babar said.

Players from both sides might be playing down the rivalry factor and instead focussing on mutual respect and admiration, but for fans taking every result sportingly is too much to ask for. They can pose together before and after a match but in no way can they afford to lose, especially against each other.

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