The Indo-Pak rivalry has taken many forms over the years. The era of hot wars has receded to pave the way for intense rivalries within other arenas, with cricket being the contemporary battleground for the two countries for decades now. With eyes glued to the TV screens, cricket fans eagerly cheering for their home countries, and the spectacular performances by the players from both sides, an India-Pakistan cricket match is truly a dynamic experience to witness. As time has passed, cricket is not only considered a sport in the two countries but revered as a religion, helmed by their respective teams — a battle between two polarized states, possibly an aftermath of decolonization.
The history of cricket in both India and Pakistan dates back to the British era. The colonizers introduced this sport to the mainland as a form of entertainment to maintain their "masculine" spirits, as it was a time when the female presence was not prominent in sports. During that period, India and Pakistan were still one entity. The Indians became captivated by the excitement that this game offered and incorporated it into their culture. Consequently, both India and Pakistan continued to honor the legacy of the sport even after gaining independence from British rule, and they each established world-class cricket teams in the subsequent years.
Previously, the Indian and Pakistani cricket teams used to play together as a single team. However, the post-partition era witnessed not only the division of the geographical area but also the teams, igniting an intense rivalry between the players and their followers in the two countries, further dividing their sentiments.
In 1952, the cricket teams of India and Pakistan faced each other for the first time ever in a Test match series, marking one of the most intense rivalries in cricket history. These teams boasted many legendary names on both sides. The flames of Pakistan leading the series with a triumphant win in the first match stretched to Lucknow, where crowds turned hostile and even assailed the Indian cricket team with stones. The subsequent matches witnessed coerced frenzy, with neither team willing to accept defeat at any cost. Thus, the saga of the unwavering competition between the India and Pakistan cricket teams continued.
Over the years, the two teams have challenged each other in various formats, providing cut-throat competition. They have also accused umpires of favoring one side, used political tactics, and even witnessed players getting hot-headed during ongoing matches. However, as cricket holds sacred significance for the citizens of both countries, they acknowledge the performances and efforts of players from both teams, who have secured places in their hearts on both sides of the borders.
With time, however, the two teams have recognized their respective positions and influence in world cricket, and they have started developing amicable bonds between them. Both Pakistani and Indian cricket players are often seen praising each other for their performances, a subject that elicits both admiration and criticism from their followers.
Recently, during their practice session before their match in the Asia Cup 2023 tournament, the India and Pakistan cricket teams were spotted engaging in friendly chats. When the match was delayed and moved to the next day due to perpetual rains in Colombo, a video captured Pakistani paceman Shaheen Shah Afridi congratulating Indian fast bowler Bumrah on the birth of his baby boy, accompanied by a heartfelt gift. This gesture was appreciated by people on both sides of the borders, as it demonstrated how the two teams value on-field competition while also respecting sportsmanship off the ground.
In a similar incident, a Pakistani fan leaned over the stands near the Indian cricket team’s dressing room, expressing his love for the much-celebrated Indian batsman Virat Kohli. "Kohli! Pakistan loves you!" he shouted as the batsman was descending from the stands to represent his country during the Asia Cup Super 4 match. The Pakistani fan went on to say, "There is no doubt that all of Pakistan loves Virat Kohli," and added, "How he treats our players and interacts with them is plain to see, so we must reciprocate the warmth," in a statement to Al Jazeera.
No matter how competitive the game might become on the field, the players share a warm connection, bonding over their love and respect for cricket. They remain indifferent to the petty politics within the two countries, effectively dismantling the prejudiced colonial mindset that originally divided the nations.
Nevertheless, after years of destructive wars that have cost innocent lives and political campaigns that have mobilized crowds against each other, India and Pakistan, besides sharing a common colonial history, also share a deep love for cricket.