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Cricket: Indo-Pak rivalry transcends sport

June 18,2017 09:52

FILE - In this Sunday, June 4, 2017, file photo, Pakistan's Shadab Khan stands by the boundary as Indian cricket fans cheer for their team during the ICC Champions Trophy match between India and Pakistan at Edgbaston in Birmingham, England. An intense ...

That appears unlikely this weekend, amid escalating tensions as India accuses Pakistan of supporting terrorism and backing separatist rebels in the disputed region of Kashmir — charges Pakistan denies. The countries have fought two of their three wars over rival claims to Kashmir, and regularly exchange fire over a de facto border that divides the territory between them.
There has been no official dialogue between the countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in India three years ago.
The scene is set. Broadcasters in both countries are tipping television audience records — more than 300 million across both countries — and social media is buzzing with jingoistic banter.
Syed Talat Hussain, political analyst at Pakistan's Geo Television, told The Associated Press that the Pakistan-India final is a "is a softer version of a war."
"Going purely by the commentary on social media, this is going to be brutal," Hussain said, adding that while the winner could triumphantly hold the trophy aloft "the runner-up will take the defeat as an everlasting wound in the heart. This won't promote peace."
The intense rivalry has been lopsided recently, though. India has won all of their meetings in global tournaments for the last five years, including a 124-run thrashing in the tournament opener two weeks ago that had critics writing off Pakistan's prospects for success.
The final is defending champion India's fourth in the last eight global tournaments. Pakistan, meanwhile, has not hosted a major international match — barring a short limited-overs series against Zimbabwe — at home since a terrorist attack on Sri Lanka's team bus at Lahore in 2009.
That has eroded the strength of the national past-time, with a generation of fans unable to see their stars playing on grounds in Karachi, Lahore or Rawalpindi.
But many analysts believe if Pakistan can upset India, it will spark a renewal.
"Cricket's culture in Pakistan is dying since the new generation hasn't seen international cricket being played in Pakistan," Dr. Nauman Niaz, direct of sports and syndication at Pakistan Television Corp., told the AP. Not only would a win for Pakistan generate more interest at home, Niaz said, it could have another significant spinoff.
"It could bring them to a position of strength and pressurize the International Cricket Council to bring back international cricket to Pakistan," he said.
Despite its poor recent record against India, the people of Pakistan have high hopes for their unpredictable team.
"We know India is a better team on paper than us, but our heart is not willing to accept that," said Mohammad Shabbir, a 16-year-old student. "We want to see Sarfraz lift the trophy on Sunday."
Television and TEN Sports said an estimated 50 million people in Pakistan tuned for the match against India on June 4.
"We expect the viewership will be easily doubled on Sunday," Niaz said. That's more than half the Pakistan population watching a game.

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