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Frequency breeds boredom
by Suresh Menon
Nov 20, 2007
Frequency breeds boredom. India and Pakistan are playing each other so often these days that some of the magic is beginning to go out of the rivalry. England doesn’t play Australia every year in a Test series – Asians are fond of calling the Pakistan-India encounters the Ashes of Asia – but we think nothing of subjecting our players, fans and viewers to the same set of pre-match bravado (usually led by Shoaib Akhtar’s vision of what he is going to do to the leading Indian batsmen), media analyses and post-match consolations (“it wasn’t India or Pakistan who won; cricket won” etc). A sameness is creeping upon the meetings, a predictability, a sense of déjà vu. But who will take the first steps towards a rationalization that will see four or six year cycles?

In this decade, the teams have played 12 Tests and 41 one-day internationals. This works out to about two Tests per year and six ODIs. The golden goose, far from being killed might end up committing suicide. There is just so much the public can take of this sibling rivalry with its political overtones and cute stories of fans crossing the border to meet up with relatives.

A couple of years ago Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Mohammad Shaharyar Khan said that “There’s been too much of bilateral contests between the two of us and I don’t want the enthusiasm to wane in a contest which is tougher than the Ashes series. We met each other on 14 occasions last year and are to meet at least 11 times this season, which means one match every month.”

If no Indian official has endorsed that, it is because of the old mindset which places an India-Pakistan series above all else in his small world.

The cliché mouthed most often was “We must play each other as often as possible to remove the acrimony from our encounters.” Wasim Akram said it, Sunil Gavaskar said it, and so did a host of lesser players and officials. The regular series has taken the element of otherness out of the equation, and even young players who graduated with their heads full of anti-Pakistani and anti-Indian feelings respectively realised that the opposition were human too, laughed at the same jokes, and were worried about the same things. Familiarity bred affection, and we are now in a phase of emotional correction, if you will, with the over burnt intensity of the past being replaced by an easy acceptance of victory or defeat. Well, almost.

The teams have played often enough to shake off the political and diplomatic baggage they carried, and are now just two countries taking on each other in a game of cricket. Cricket is about cricket and nothing else. Perhaps playing each other regularly was a necessary evil that helped resolve the problem of irreconcilable otherness that is at the bottom of all conflict.

But has it been a fair-trade-off - becoming rational at the cost of losing the competitive edge? Having got this far, however, it would be foolish to overdo it and reduce the exercise to a chore. A little otherness is a good thing, for marriages and cricket teams.

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