Indicative of the magnetic power of bitter rivals India and Pakistan, rare contests which provide a spell on the entire cricket world, especially their legions of obsessive fans, predicting Melbourne’s temperamental weather has become something of a pastime in recent days.
The forecast for the T20 World Cup blockbuster days out looked dire for the packed clash on Sunday at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground, expected to attract more than 92,000 fans, a figure that is only bettered by Grand Finals in the Australian Football League – the indigenous ‘footy’ code being the most popular sport Down Under.
Prognosticating Melbourne’s weather is almost pointless. Anyone who has been there can attest that with Victoria’s capital renowned for having four seasons in one day and, fortunately, perhaps willed by the hopes of the entire cricket world, the forecast has improved dramatically and on match eve there appears little prospect of inclement conditions.
The International Cricket Council, most notably, will be breathing a sigh of relief with Australian newspaper The Daily Telegraph reporting that refunds would have cost the governing body several millions if it was a washout. Wild weather lashed the east coast of Australia last week although the tournament’s opening week in Geelong and Hobart was mostly unaffected.
Fans too will be overjoyed with India and Pakistan rarely playing each other in cricket—a sport that is almost a religion across a region of about 1.6 billion people – due to political differences with India’s government not allowing its national cricket team to play their arch-nemesis in bilaterals.
Even though it is a travesty that they don’t play each other in Tests, the last being 15 years ago, the scarcity does add to the anticipation with massive television numbers guaranteed every time they do meet.
The foes produced the highest watched match of the men’s World Cup in 2019 with a worldwide television audience of 273 million and more than 50 million digital-only viewers, according to the ICC.
It is not hyperbolic to state that it will be the most watched sports event in the world this weekend.
And it will be the third match between them in the past couple of months with the teams splitting five-wicket victories at the Asia Cup. But politics continue to fester in the backdrop, interfering this wonderful rivalry, underlined by BCCI secretary Jay Shah, probably the most influential figure in cricket who doubles as the Asian Cricket Council president, publicly stating that next year’s Asia Cup will have to be shifted away from Pakistan.
The final decision is expected from India’s home ministry although India’s sports minister Anurag Thakur said he is “expecting” Pakistan to play the 2023 ODI World Cup in India.
After a long period as vagabonds, unable to play at home most of last decade due to security concerns, Pakistan have returned home and even hosted previously reticent Australia and England this year. Enticing India, however, looms as an entirely different challenge.
Attempting to thaw relations, Pakistan Cricket Board boss Ramiz Raja, the charismatic former captain then turned popular broadcaster, has tried to pursue more cordial relations with his counterparts since taking the reins just over 12 months ago.
He has proposed more matches between Pakistan and India through triangular and quadrangular One-Day International series although they haven’t gotten off the ground just yet.
“We saw the world stop when India and Pakistan played at the Asia Cup,” Raja recently told me. ”We have that power at the Asian level to organize more Asia Cups which would see more matches between India and Pakistan. It’s an iconic rivalry, the people want it. The more the merrier.”
Unlike his predecessor Ehsan Mani, a former ICC president, who recently told me that India shouldn’t have the lion share of the ICC’s revenue funding, Raja has been much more diplomatic.
In the ICC’s current cycle surplus from 2015-2023, according to documents seen, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) receive $371 million well ahead of England ($127 million) while seven Full Members, including Pakistan, are allocated $117 million.
“I’m happy for India to take the most because they make almost all of what is in the ICC’s coffers,” Raja said.
The teams themselves have seemingly gotten on well with each other, playing with smiles and sportsmanship, which should act as a unifying tool, something that political and cricket leaders from both countries would be wise to take heed of.
But with all eyes watching, fueled by massive stakes in the T20 World Cup opener for both teams, the MCG will be a cauldron amid an electric atmosphere crammed with probably the two most passionate fan bases in cricket.
If the rain stays away.