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Pakistan clash with India in battle of nerves at Old Trafford

Updated June 16, 2019

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MANCHESTER: Pakistan players attend an indoor training session ahead of their World Cup match against India at Old Trafford on Saturday. — AP
MANCHESTER: Pakistan players attend an indoor training session ahead of their World Cup match against India at Old Trafford on Saturday. — AP

IT was an easy ride on Manchester’s wide airport road to Bury on Saturday, but large flashing signs warned motorists of delays on the Old Trafford route on Sunday, when Indian and Pakistani cricketers face off for the most widely watched fixture of the World Cup being played in England and Wales.

There were xenophobic calls in India to abandon the game against Pakistan, including by former batsman Gautam Gambhir who became an MP for the rightwing ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in May. The ICC permitted the Indian team sport army caps in a match against Australia to protest the terrorist attack in Pulwama. But the governing body of world cricket put its foot down against a proposal to let M.S. Dhoni wear a military insignia on his wicket-keeping gloves.

That the match is happening at all goes to the credit of saner cricket enthusiasts in India, for example, Sachin Tendulkar. He was clear that India should play to win the two points against Pakistan. A veteran against Pakistan, Tendulkar holds the record of highest ODI runs for India against the neighbours at 2,526. Pakistan’s Inzimam ul Haq gathered his team’s highest ODI runs against India at 2,403. Dhoni’s performance with 1,230 against Pakistan remains way below that of Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Mohammed Azharuddin.

Biggest-ever policing operation will be in place in city for a cricket match; a 75-pound ticket was selling at 2,500 pounds

Local reports were sanguine there was no specific intelligence of any planned threat to the event, but they said a big policing operation will be in place on Sunday.

Police remain tight-lipped on numbers for operational reasons, the reports said, but it could be the biggest ever for a cricket game in the city. Armed officers would be part of the huge security operation in place for the match, and for a nearby public screening being set up in a park.

Of the half million ticket applicants for the India-Pakistan match with the stadium’s extended capacity of 25,000 spectators, 65 per cent were thought to be India fans, 20pc Pakistan supporters and the rest described themselves as neutral. A ticket with a face value of 75 pounds was reportedly going for 2,500 pounds through online vendors on Saturday.

Intermittent rain and largely overcast conditions over the past week could disrupt the game at England’s most notoriously rain-prone venue. Prevailing overcast conditions would be handing advantage to the pace bowlers on both sides.

Given their frosty relations, the two teams have been playing each other in world tournaments such as the current World Cup. Their last meeting was the final of the 2017 Champions Trophy at the Oval, which Pakistan won. The match attracted a worldwide audience of over half a billion people meaning the fixture is regarded as one of the biggest in world sport.

The huge clamour to see India led by Virat Kohli take on Pakistan skippered by Sarfraz Ahmed underpins an increased jingoist polity in India under the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In this respect, Old Trafford on Sunday will miss former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s hearty blessings for sporting ties with Pakistan. When he sent the Indian ODI squad to Lahore early in 2004, he had a special message for the Indian team: “You should not only go to win the match, but you must conquer their hearts too.” And this he said after the trauma of the terrorist attack on parliament and the Kargil military standoff under his watch.

Could the fans at Old Trafford heed similar calls by India’s favourite Pakistani cricketer Wasim Akram who has asked both sides to enjoy the game without rancour? The odds appear to be loaded against the game of cricket as it was. And the police in Manchester are aware of the dire reality.

Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2019