When it comes to India vs Pakistan cricket, be it a normal game or a final of a major ICC tournament, the talk is always about war. Sporting lines are absolutely blurred.
When it comes to India vs Pakistan, the pride and ego of both nations is so high that a loss is unbearable and not easy to digest. Thus, the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy final between India and Pakistan was the right platform which saw media and people from both sides of the border indulge in a jingoistic frenzy like never before.
The mood before the match was of supreme confidence, bordering on near overconfidence from the Indian side. Pakistan had lost seven consecutive ICC matches against India since 2009 and in the league game, they were hammered in Birmingham.
India had remained unbeaten in the tournament while Pakistan had only managed to scrape through to the final with wins over South Africa, Sri Lanka and England.
Before the match, the Indian media’s reaction was that the cup was already India’s for the taking. Media channels kept asking the Indian fans about the verdict and many of them responded by saying that Virat Kohli would blow Pakistan away.
Harbhajan Singh was confident that India cannot lose. Virender Sehwag, in one TV show, went to the other extreme by using the Father’s Day reference which was on that day. “Sons normally wish the father. So, Pakistan will wish India Happy Father’s Day,” Sehwag said.
One TV channel went to the absolute extreme. There was a panel from both India and Pakistan and the backdrop was of a war scene, with tanks firing ammunition and soldiers near barbed wire firing.
Another news channel took a comedian to the Wagah border in an open provocation in front of frenzied crowds. The concept of neutrality was absolutely shredded.
Pakistan Give it Back
On match day, India sprang the first surprise when they decided to bowl on a placid Oval track. Pakistan’s start could have been disastrous when Fakhar Zaman was caught behind for three runs but Jasprit Bumrah had overstepped.
Zaman and Azhar Ali shared an opening stand of over 100, with Zaman registering a magnificent century. Mohammad Hafeez then hit 57 off 37 balls and backed by solid contributions from Babar Azam, Pakistan managed to score 338.
India’s powerpacked batting line-up was capable of chasing any total. With Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli at their disposal and the likes of MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh to follow, Indian fans were still confident.
In stepped Mohammad Amir and he scripted a fairytale of redemption. Amir sent back Rohit Sharma in the third ball for a duck. Kohli was dropped but he was caught the next ball. When Dhawan, the leading run-getter in the tournament fell, the game was up.
Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni also perished cheaply. Hardik Pandya struck some big blows but once he was run-out for 76, India suffered a 180-run shellacking. Pakistan became the fourth nation after India, West Indies and Sri Lanka to complete the set of ICC trophies.
Following the loss, the tone in the Indian media changed. Words like shameful echoed every minute.
In Kanpur, some ‘fans’ burned posters of the Indian cricket team players and broke TVs. In Kashmir, there were big celebrations over Pakistan’s win and some people were taken into custody under the country’s sedition laws.
The levels of jingoism in cricket coverage has now become a template for grabbing eyeballs. The Indian media did not learn during the 2019 ICC World Cup where they were so confident that India would make the final at Lord’s. When the team lost to a spirited and determined New Zealand in the semi-final, the Indian media were given the rudest of jolts.
The Indian media, when it comes to sports coverage, tetter on the extremely jingoistic, passionate to extremely hurtful. There is no middle ground followed by the majority of channels.
They can heed the words of Harsha Bhogle when he said, “I don’t think you can hijack an India vs Pakistan match to settle scores. If one says that this is nationalistic, it is nonsense. Sports teaches you respect.” Can these words penetrate the conveniently silent, loud and deaf media? One can only hope.