Written by Sandeep Dwivedi | | Adelaide | | February 15, 2015 7:01:46 pm
Behind bolted dressing room doors and DND-marked hotel suits, cricketers from India and Pakistan laugh their heads off on days like these. And when they bump into each other; the so-called bitter rivals laugh a bit more. (Full Coverage| Venues | Fixtures)
This isn’t hearsay; it’s the inside story that Virender Sehwag shared a couple of days before India’s opening World Cup game against Pakistan. Four years back he played Pakistan at a World Cup game with high stakes, higher pressure and men occupying the country’s highest offices in audience.
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On match eve, Sehwag says, the players were in splits comparing the shrillness of the cricket talk in their respective countries, the unending war minus guns references and those amateurish attempts to draw devil horns and angel wings on them to market the contest. Blazing fires made for popular backdrop on cricket shows on television where former players got into mock fight. It was amusing. “We have been friends. To paint us enemies was hilarious,” said Sehwag.
It’s another India-Pak World Cup game eve at Adelaide Oval and the war-movie is playing out again. The Swamy Army, that noisy bunch of NRI Indian supporters, warned the world about their march to the stadium with dhols. It was being played today outside Oval today and it almost sound like a military drum. Those in green shirts too have a plan for a counter offensive but it is veiled in secrecy. Braving the harsh sun as they watch their team train, a whisper spreads in the stands. Tomorrow they all are meeting next to the old bridge, you overhear.
Back in the sub-continent, the LoC has a billion with war paint on face on one side and a million with equally menacing expressions on other, both set, for the last month or so, are in the middle of Haka. PMs, pundits and the trolls, the kind who write ‘India sucks’ or ‘Pakistan murdabad’ even below Tarla Dala youtube videos are playing the cheer leaders.
Despite the instigation, the players haven’t been waylaid. They don’t seem to be those same hate pages like the fans. On match eve, you saw that ‘not again’ smirk on the faces of cricketers as they would so frequently turn to the stands where fans were busy shouting slogans and waving flags. At the pre-match Misbah-ul-Haq press conference, it didn’t take long for the inevitable question to crop up. With that rivalry, is it difficult not to take any sort of extra animosity onto the field? The Pakistan captain was vague in his reply: “I don’t know whether it’s difficult or it’s not difficult. It just varies person to person.” Later, he asked if it was the Modi-Nawaz intervention in the game was right. Mishab isn’t a spring chicken; he didn’t even acknowledge the query but very coolly answered the second part of the question. “You don’t have to worry about what’s happening outside, what’s going on in the countries. I think you need to focus on your game, go there, and play your best.”
Before that the India briefing, the following exchange between Dhoni and a reporter summed up the boredom of a typical pre-India Pakistan World Cup game.
Reporter: The fans have been talking about the 5‑0 recording you have against Pakistan in the World Cup. Does that matter at all?
Dhoni: No, the only thing that matters is you have to answer a lot of questions regarding that. Apart from that, it doesn’t really matter frankly speaking, the reason being we are talking about a span of 20 years maybe or even more.
Animosity, revenge or one-upmanship – those popular emotions that regularly get tagged to these sub-continent derbies – seemed the last thing on the minds of two captains. These were tired men fighting their own personal battles while managing undisciplined and inconsistent teams. Misbah and Dhoni are captains past their prime searching for that last big high.
The pressure was there and it wasn’t just because they were facing each other. Any team, any opening Cup game comes with the same pressure.
Besides, Dhoni is in-charge of a team that has a million problems. Opening batting, new ball bowling, late middle order, spin dilemma are overpowering problems that could eat up the entire mind space of any captain. These anxieties can make leader into self-absorbing captains for whom the jersey colour of the rival team becomes irrelevant.
Misbah, maybe playing his last India contest, is struggling to find worthy replacements to his key players – the multi-talented Mohammed Hafeez and the ever so consistent new ball bowler Mohammad Junaid. Pakistan has a talented side but Misbah hasn’t yet to figure out the right combination. He too has many questions swimming in this mind. Should he pick part-time wicket-keeper Umar Akmal ahead of the ‘find of 2014’ Sarfaraz Ahmed? Should Shahid Afridi play at no.8? Should he play the young and talented leggie Yasir Shah against India? And finally, should he lose sleep about playing a team that hasn’t won a single game in Australia since their rival two months back?
The Indians fans outside the Oval, several hours after the team had left, say he should. A Pakistan fan, meanwhile, was shouting in a camera. “I would like to tell PCB to call the team back home after they beat India tomorrow. We just want to win this game, India can win the World Cup,” he yelled to a wild cheer of those standing around him. That’s when a cackle of laughter emerged from the team hotel where the players were staying. But the din was too much no one heard that.