It might be the biggest rivalry of all time: India vs. Pakistan. And this has nothing to do with politics; it’s all about cricket. The two rival nations are set to face off at the ICC World Cup in Adelaide, Australia, on Sunday and viewership is expected to approach 1 billion people. To put that in perspective, an estimated 114.4 million people tuned into Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 2. To be fair, 114.4 million people accounts for just about 9 percent of India’s population.
While the sport of cricket, which vaguely resembles baseball in that there’s a bat and ball involved, still confounds many in the United States, it’s reached a fever pitch (pun intended) abroad. One ad about a previous India vs. Pakistan run-in summarized it best in a scene that involves a gas leak and an impending spark.
The feeling of tension is one thing, but the acting out on it is another and, unfortunately, violence breaking out at India vs. Pakistan cricket matches is not unheard of.
At the 1999 World Cup, the match was disrupted by a fight that began after fans hurled insults at each other. Per the Associated Press at the time:
Fans ran onto the field at revered Old Trafford (in Manchester, England) and police said Pakistanis kicked and punched at least two Indians and burned Indian flags.
Dozens of police stormed onto the field to break up scuffles, handcuffing at least two Pakistani fans and dragging them away. Celebrating Indian fans set off fireworks in a crowd waiting for post-match presentations.
The field was cleared and calm restored within 30 minutes. Police said there were three arrests, two Pakistanis and one Indian. One man was injured by fireworks.
Luckily, violent eruptions have been relatively few and far between in the cricket rivalry, but that hasn’t stopped Adelaide police from preparing for the worst. They’re taking security seriously to deal with the sold-out crowd of 53,500 plus the many more who have traveled to watch the game elsewhere in town.
“As with all major events, South Australia Police (SAPOL) will have a planned and coordinated approach in place to prevent and minimize anti-social and disruptive behavior while keeping the public safe,” a police spokesman told ESPN on Thursday.
The police presence won’t be limited just to India vs. Pakistan either.
“At all four of the Cricket World Cup matches [in Adelaide], SAPOL will have a highly visible, proactive and assertive presence, while encouraging all supporters to attend and enjoy the game,” the spokesman added.
Assuming everyone stays safe, the game between India and Pakistan will air at 10:30 p.m. EST on Saturday in the United States for those with access to special cricket packages via Willow TV and ESPN, and it will likely be a nail-biter.
India, with the aid of talented batsmen Virat Kohli (51.50 average) and Shikhar Dhawan (42.75), will attempt to defend the nation’s last World Cup win in 2011, but it will be hard as the team has found themselves in a rut as of late. Per the Wall Street Journal’s Will Davies:
“India’s recent results, like a series of philosophical essays by a 6 year-old, make for grim reading. The only win against international opposition came Tuesday, against World Cup debutante Afghanistan in a warm-up match for cricket’s six-week showcase.”
Pakistan’s team has also gotten mixed reviews this year due to Saeed Ajmal’s suspension and Mohammed Hafeez’s injury. But even without those two stars, Pakistan has a fighting chance. The team boasts four of the best bowlers in the game, including lefty fast bowler Mohammed Irfan, who is 7-1, and he and his team are hungry for one of the few prizes they have yet to earn — a World Cup victory over India.
In the five years the team has met at the quadrennial tournament — 1992, 1996, 1999, 2003 and 2011 — India has emerged the victor in all of them. This time could finally be different, but either way it will be entertaining.