Commonwealth Games 2022 – India v Pakistan, but not as we know it

Baby Fatima’s moment of cross-border fame was one of the most memorable images from the Women’s World Cup in New Zealand earlier this year. Pakistani captain Bismah Maroof’s granddaughter surrounded by the Indian players in the post-match afterglow spoke of the love, laughter and respect shared by the two groups of players. It was a defining image of the India-Pakistan rivalry in women’s cricket.

Don’t let outsiders tell you it’s war; the relationship between the players is cordial. The versatile Pakistani Nida Dar put it succinctly saying, “match ek side pe rehta hai aur dosti apni jagah pe hai (The contest has its place, our friendship has its place too.)”

It helps that the pressure and win-at-all-costs mentality – which isn’t entirely absent – ​​isn’t amplified by the media as much as when the men’s teams play each other.

The final round of the rivalry comes on Sunday, when the two teams meet in a crucial Commonwealth Games Group A game in Edgbaston. India and Pakistan both suffered defeats in their opening matches against Australia and Barbados respectively. That’s enough pressure to bear.

Yet what players know is that regardless of their current form, they are one performance away from becoming a star.

Ask Nain Abidi, Pakistan’s first centurion in a women’s ODI and a member of the gold-medal winning squad at the Asian Games in Guangzhou in 2010. She was twice part of teams that beat India in the Cups of the T20 world. Both games were nail-biting thrillers.

At Galle 2012, Pakistan beat India by one point, recording their first-ever win in tournament history. It was also the first time that a Pakistani team, male or female, beat India at a World Cup. Then in Delhi in 2016, in front of 7,000 screaming fans and pouring rain, Pakistan held on by a two-point margin via the DLS method.

“No matter how hard you train your mind to think this is just another game, it’s impossible not to get sucked into the hype,” Abidi told ESPNcricinfo. “Forget what people think. Your own family members can put pressure on you sometimes. I remember before that game in Delhi, so many family members called me to wish me luck.

“After we won the game, the PCB announced a reward for us. The departments we used to play for announced bonuses. The news channels were knocking on our doors. It was surreal, in that it made us wonder if we were actually going to win a World Cup. That’s the magnitude of a win over India. It can make you instant stars.”

Abidi is far from the hype now, having last played for Pakistan, incidentally against India, in the Asian Cup in 2018. Since becoming a parent, Abidi has lived in the United States, but she will infallibly tune in at 6 a.m. Sunday to watch the rivals play.

VR Vanitha, the former Indian striker, remembers this game in Delhi for its intensity and hype, but also speaks warmly of the atmosphere and camaraderie between the players.

“I remember being very pompous in my belief that it was just one more game and that my mind had been trained to think that way,” she says. “But that day, the moment I got to the stadium and took my headphones off, I was like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on here?’ The hype, the energy, everything was so different. It hit you instantly.

The defeat may have been bittersweet for India, but two days later both teams were special guests for a charity event that ended with a fashion show where the players walked the ramp . As word spread that the Pakistan women’s team would be in attendance, they were given front row seats. It was so different from 2013 when they had to stay on the stadium premises in Cuttack for security reasons during the World Cup at 50.

“The next day at the breakfast table, we sat and ate together,” Vanitha recalls. “You wouldn’t have thought they were on the same side we lost the day before. We barely talked about cricket. But when we parted ways we wished each other for the rest of the campaign. I don’t mind. I don’t remember any instances where there was any animosity Yes, there were friendly jokes, but it was always cordial.

In Derby at the 2017 World Cup, fast bowler Kainat Imtiaz sat motionless, soaking up all the advice she was getting from her idol Jhulan Goswami. In 2006, Imtiaz was a ballerina at the Asian Cup in Karachi, where she watched Goswami bowling and was inspired to become a fast player.

“I can say that I was able to motivate a girl in this world to play cricket, that one too from Pakistan – that was a big thing for me,” Goswami said afterwards.

When Harmanpreet Kaur left the 2019 edition of the Women’s BBL, her replacement Dar, who became the first Pakistani player to participate in the tournament, wasted no time in seeking valuable suggestions and advice from her Punjabi friend.” across the border”. “.

Yet despite all the friendly interactions off the pitch, the players are fierce rivals. You only had to see Dar’s reaction to securing Harmanpreet’s wicket at the World Cup earlier this year to understand that.

This is essentially how the biggest rivalry in cricket between women’s teams plays out. Players are aware of the region’s geopolitics, which occasionally evoke chauvinism on both sides, but are determined not to let it bother them. And even if India and Pakistan cannot face each other in a bilateral series, each occasion between them only adds a new layer of warmth and camaraderie off the field, even if the intensity on the field simmers.

Sunday will bring another chapter in this fierce but friendly rivalry. The significance of the contest is unlikely to be lost on either side. A victory could be the springboard to a historic medal, a defeat could well mean an early exit from the Commonwealth Games.

Shashank Kishore is Senior Deputy Editor at ESPNcricinfo

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