By Khalid Hussain
LONDON, June 9 (WNP): It seemed as if the Oval was hosting a Pakistan-India game here on Sunday.
All roads leading to the iconic stadium were packed with more than an hour to go before the start of the match.
It was the sort of scene that is normally witnessed when the two Asian rivals clash on the cricketing field. But there was no green just a sea of blue as Indian fans chanted slogans in their team’s favour looking confident that Virat Kohli and his men will conquer defending champions Australia in what is seen as one of the biggest World Cup clashes.
Over the years, the rivalry between India and Australia has grown. In the past, the Aussies would, more often than not, thrash the Indians but things have changed. India’s rapid rise in international cricket meant that Australia’s series-winning triumph in an ODI series in India in the lead up to the World Cup was an unexpected result.
On the sidelines of the ongoing World Cup, a debate has started as to which team is better equipped to win the World Cup. There is another debate as to who is the world’s best batsman and the two men in the spotlight are India’s Virat Kohli and Australia’s Steve Smith.
“The rivalry between Australia and India is now definitely a major cricketing rivalry,” believes Melinda Farrell, who is covering the World Cup for Cricinfo.
But is Australia-India now a bigger cricketing rivalry than Pakistan-India?
Most critics and fans don’t think so.
“You can’t compare the two rivalries,” says Shameer Rehman, a veteran Indian journalist from Kerala. “Cricketing wise, the contest between India and Australia has definitely grown but has it or will it replace the India-Pakistan rivalry? I don’t think so,” he said.
Gaurav Gupta, from Times of India, agrees.
“Life still comes at a standstill in India whenever the team is playing against Pakistan. It hasn’t really changed. The fans back home are still passionate about the rivalry and till that passion is there things won’t change,” he said.
Farrell, meanwhile, believes that cricketing neutrals were slowly losing interest in Pakistan-India games. “Things were becoming a bit one-sided since India was winning most of the matches featuring the two teams quite comfortably. But that has changed after what happened in the Champions Trophy final two years ago,” she said.
Back in 2017, Pakistan came back from a hammering at the hands of India in a group game in Birmingham to thrash their arch-rivals in a completely one-sided final at The Oval.
Rehman, meanwhile, is of the view that the on-field rivalry between Pakistan and India is a bit less fierce now then in the past. “Today, the Indian players are better educated and have a better world view. They know that they are professional cricketers,” he said.
For most fans, however, Pakistan-India matches remain a matter of life and death.
“I’ll be in Manchester to see India thrash Pakistan. I will settle for nothing less,” said Sandeep Singh as he looked at a stall set outside The Oval to buy Indian flags ahead of Sunday’s game against Australia.
Pakistan and India will meet in an eagerly-awaited World Cup game at Old Trafford on June 16.