India vs Pakistan T20 World Cup 2024: America celebrates grand sporting occasions. Celebs flock for the Super Bowl week; Hollywood descends on Miami when Lionel Messi turns up; Marlon Brando would wear a false beard and attend baseball games; Ernest Hemingway would sneak into the packed stands to watch his favorite star, Joe DiMaggio. Cricket’s biggest game yet in the US, between arch-rivals India and Pakistan, wouldn’t bring Hollywood or celebs to New York, or capture the country’s imagination. But this Sunday they could get the first glimpse of cricket’s most marketable rivalry with all its fervour and frenzy.

It could acquaint them with the mad rush, the feverish excitement, and the aural commotion of a predominantly Indian and Pakistani crowd. A slice of the subcontinent in Long Island. The build-up had begun long ago. Since the moment rumors swirled that New York would host the most sellable game in the sport, this has been projected as the match that could spark the sport’s American revolution.

But as the tournament unfolded, the erratic drop-in pitches and unearthly-priced tickets have stolen some of the attention from the contest per se. As has the USA’s shock defeat of Pakistan, after which the latter’s stocks and odds have dramatically plummeted.

But once the seats begin to fill, the teams arrive at the ground for warm-up, the background would blur. The 22-yard-strip of doubt and mystery would be the center of the cricketing universe, for those 34,000 inside the arena and the millions outside. The pitch and shock-defeat would add further layers of drama and suspense into a match that already brims with several threads of Hollywood scripts.

A narrative arc, for example, is the much-trodden but eternally relevant, one of Pakistan being on the precipice, a nudge away from rolling down the abyss, but then miraculously pulling themselves from the brink to scale the peak. There are at times the mythical Phoenix that rises from the ashes, and at times Sisyphus rolling the giant boulder up and down the slope. If Pakistan lose this game, they would be practically out of the tournament; whereas India still have wriggle room to reach the super eight. India would start the favourites, but you cannot bet against Pakistan anytime or anywhere, thus taking their fans through a roulette of emotions.

Glaring cracks

There are glaring cracks; the fielding in the USA game was abysmal to judge generously; batting was
bereft of explosive power with too many players suited to the 50-overs game than the 20-overs variant; A good Pakistani spinner is now a pixelated memory. That said, their pace firm restores hope. The quartet of Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammed Amir, Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf could trigger anxious minds and frozen feet in batsmen. Their late flicker β€” more so when they started reversing the 10-over-old ball β€” was the sole reason the match lasted until the Super Over.

Festive offer

Pakistan bowlers versus Indian batsmen. It’s the eternal plot when these two teams meet, in the best of times and the worst of times. Not that India’s seam cartel is any inferior β€” they could match the opponents toe-to-toe, and they could leave their stamp on the game, apart from India possessing superior spinners.

But some storylines repeat, or rather remain the same. It used to be Sunil Gavaskar and Imran Khan; Sachin Tendulkar and Wasim Akram/Waqar Younis/Shoaib Akhtar; Virat Kohli-Rohit Sharma versus Afridi and Shah. It has rarely been about Zaheer Abbas and Bishan Bedi, Kapil Dev and Javed Miandad; or Babar Azam and Jasprit Bumrah, although these have been equally riveting spectacles.

But pregame conversations would be pitched on how Rohit and Co. negotiate Afridi and friends and how the passage could define the game. Afridi’s first spell in Dubai in the 2021 edition was one for the ages and fashioned Pakistan’s first-ever win over India in any World Cup. The latter have beaten them five times in six meetings, a one-sided rivalry in the statistical sense, but most have been close and tense affairs, like the Kohli heist in Melbourne, or the twin nerve-shredders in the inaugural issue.

But history would mean nothing β€” and sometimes everything β€” when they clash. Their encounters have a standalone existence, often immune to the standard sporting barometers like recent form, state of mind, and historic outcomes, as if it has a code of law unto itself. It has produced unseemly heroes, like Venkatesh Prasad and Joginder Sharma, Iqbal Qasim and Tauseef Ahmed. Maybe, the hero this time could be Arshdeep Singh or Azam Khan.

Both sides wield several names that could win a game single-handedly. That’s the other peculiar charm of an India-Pakistan match, a team game suddenly transforms into a clash of individual titans. Cricket’s equivalent of the Avengers. Everyone wants bragging rights. Thus the undulating glamor and the simmering rivalry. The cricketers of this generation might not nurse grudges as they once did, they chat and banter like friends in their rare exchanges. But beneath them is a fierce sense of competitiveness, an ambition to exceed your skill levels, a motivation to win the game at all costs. Like the one between the New England Patriots and New York Jets, with geopolitical tension. Even though the captains would pour out the platitude β€œit’s just another game”, it is rarely the case. It’s the intoxicating pull of the game, one that might not bring Hollywood to town, but one that would offer America glimpses of cricket’s most marketable rivalry, with all its fervour and frenzy.