The ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2021 trophy at The Louvre Abu Dhabi ahead of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 Image Credit: ICC

Cricket is more than just a game. Everyone who plays or watches it keenly knows this. In the subcontinent, home to the world’s most ardent cricket-loving population, the colonial sport is no less than a life-style that binds the mighty rich and the slum-dwellers together — the only point where everyone rises or falls in joy and in sorrow in sync with each other.

That’s is why the United Arab Emirates-hosted T20 World Cup is arguably one of the globe’s biggest sporting events, bringing the kind of eyeballs to the stadiums and screens than few competitions can match.

That Pakistan is playing traditional rivals India in their first fixture has generated the kind of hype that is witnessed only for super finals, even though it is just an opening game.

Tickets for the match are selling like hot cakes and social media is on fire with youtube channel hosts teasing each other with imagined glories and humbling defeats.

India-Pakistan clash in sports

Much of the social media sparring is driven by revenues. The sports channels make a massive buck when India and Pakistan play each other. When they spice up their commentaries, the viewers swing with them with roaring passions.

Advertisers love this market. They cash in on the frenzy and lap up exponential profits. But even without profitmaking tactics, India and Pakistan matches carry enormous volume of emotions. India has come out as winners five times in the past.

The boys in blue feel confident that they will have another victory under their belt soon. Pakistan boasts of a great record in the UAE and believe that the fortunes would smile on them this time. May the best team win because only one of them will.

More than a game

For Pakistan, the other matches are also not just ordinary events. The game against New Zealand is even more important in its symbolism. Pakistan is still bummed out over the New Zealanders’ last-minute withdrawal from their bilateral series in the country triggering the cancellation of the British male and female teams’ tours.

Pakistan’s hard work to restore its image and prestige as a secure venue for sport, business and investment faced a bottleneck. While New Zealanders have tried to do several damage-limitation exercises including an offer to re-fix the cancelled tour but bilateral disquiet remains.

The match is now seen in Pakistan as an occasion to take up the sports gauntlet against the New Zealanders.

The third match too is in focus for reasons that go beyond the game and that is with Afghanistan, a country that has undergone a big internal change and is in the focus of the international community. Their team will play for pride and glory and also to underline the enormous potential the land possesses despite being mired in violence.

Sports is soft power

It is unfair to burden sportspersons with goals and expectations over and above the game’s requirement but then sports these days is practically an extended arm of a nation’s soft power and a tool to fashion its image.

The teams competing in the T20 World Cup will therefore not just be playing to get the trophies or to mark individual and collective skills. When they take to the field, they would know that they are playing for a lot more.

This is a heavy cross to carry but one that has become part of parcel of the way sports is played these days. As the gleaming scenes from UAE’s beautifully-designed stadiums will prove, the game may be called cricket but its spirit, its passion, its fears, tears and howls of ecstasy are no different from those that once echoed the colosseums where the gladiators clashed.

Syed Talat Hussain is a prominent Pakistani journalist and writer. Twitter: @TalatHussain12