Despite the fiasco around ticket sales, the cricket world cup fever has set in with the Asia cup and the Australia series in the run up. However, both the series lacked intensity despite involving historic rivalries for hosts India with Pakistan and Australia. This piece by Sandeep Dwivedi in the Indian Express explores why these rivalries may no longer be as bitter.

“The Australians have already played the opening game in this World Cup trip to India and they haven’t started the trash talk. The other day Shaheen Afridi, like a friendly neighbour, ran across to the Indian dressing room to present a baby gift hamper for Jasprit Bumrah’s new born son. Before and during the Asia Cup game, the one-time bitter rivals behaved like cousins out on the field during summer vacations.
Of late, the erstwhile intimidating Australia have been giving off the New Zealand ‘good guys’ vibes and the quietude of the Sri Lankans seem to be rubbing off on Pakistan, the former Unquiet Ones.”

Referring to the intimidating Aussie team of the 2000s: “As if their intimidating presence on the pitch and overwhelming body of work wasn’t enough, they enhanced their aura by speaking like truckers and behaving like goons when a batsman took guard. Rival fans would pray for their dismissal and hoped they retired soon. The Ugly Aussie, they were the classic villains.”

What changed?
“It all changed in 2018 when the cameras captured Cameron Bancroft hiding a sandpaper in his briefs. The team protocol, both written and unwritten, changed. Overnight, the nation went soft. They do sledge but the chatter is childish. Now Tim Paine was asking Rishabh Pant if he was free to babysit his child. Marnus Labuschagne, while fielding at short-leg, would inquire about Shubman Gill’s favourite batsmen. If Hayden was on air he would have sunk in his chair.

Their World Cup skipper Pat Cummins often gets referred to as ‘Captain Woke’. He is the baby of his family, did his masters during injury break and talks about environmental issues. Cummins has a bright glowing face that transmits positivity. He doesn’t insult rivals nor is he boastful of his team’s achievements. He is an UnAustralian cricketer, they say.”

What about Pakistan?
“The long cricketing freeze between the diplomatically hostile nations have made India and Pakistan aloof toward each other. India’s rocketing rise as a cricketing super power and the coinciding sporting isolation of Pakistan has turned this into a contest of unequals.

Pakistan cricketers and commentators seem to be in awe of the Indian team that is full to the brim with richly-paid super stars of the world’s biggest cricket league – the IPL. Like never before, Pakistan, when facing India, seems to be dealing with an inferiority complex. For Pakistan, India is what Australia used to be back in the day. India doesn’t quite have the silverware in the cabinet to match the Aussies of the past, but it does have the facilities, infrastructure and stable system that could be the envy of any neighbours.”

Why should cordial relations with competing teams be a problem?
“.consensus isn’t a condiment that makes a sporting clash spicy. Ask any football fan in Barcelona, Madrid, Manchester, Buenos Aires or Rio and they will tell you that the prerequisite for an engaging Derby isn’t fans being deeply in love with their own team. They also need to hate their rivals. But can these well-behaved Pakistan and Australia players get on the nerves? Alas Mohammad Rizwan can’t be expected to break into a monkey jump like Miandad, nor does Cummins have McGrath in him, to infuriate India. Cricket is threatening to be reclaimed by gentlemen leaving fans puzzled.”

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