Spectators cheer
Spectators cheer during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between Bangladesh and India at Edgbaston in Birmingham, on July 2, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

Birmingham: There is something about national anthems of participating countries, which are played out before the matches of any ICC event these days — it surely tugs at your heartstrings. When it’s sung in your language, and penned by the same celebrated poet and creator (yes), it becomes even more special.

It’s common knowledge that Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel laureate, had composed both the anthems for India (‘Jana Gana Mana’) and Bangladesh (‘O amar shonar Bangla’), but the experience of standing up for both blaring at a choc-a-bloc Edgbaston on Tuesday was unforgettable. The Birmingham venue wore the look of a Wankhede or Bangabandhu Stadium in Dhaka if one went by the sea of Indian Tricolour or the rising run of the Bangladesh flags — making you convinced about the wisdom of scheduling a chunk of matches of the subcontinental teams here.

Given the number of limited Test playing nations in cricket, there are only a handful of time-tested rivalries in the game unlike football, but the India-Bangladesh clashes have certainly become an emerging rivalry for some time now. It was an engaging battle where the Big Brothers were often kept on their toes and it was a much livelier than the other rivalry — the Trans-Tasman one — that I witnessed last Saturday at Lord’s.

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The passion of the subcontinental fans — who produced a heady mix of colour, excitement and joie de vivre at an unlikely setting — drives home the point that their presence is crucial for the survival of the sport faced with the threat of law of diminishing returns. The interest levels for the ongoing Cricket World Cup in this country seems to be restricted in pockets, and most of the sports pages that I picked up over the last few days had their priorities clear — it’s the Women’s World Cup football in France where the ‘Lionesses’ made the semi-finals, Wimbledon and then Eoin Morgan and Co.

The returns from the match between Australia and New Zealand at the Lord’s — fought on a day when London recorded its highest temperature and the wicket playing up — was more of an opportunity to return to the ‘home of cricket.’ For a rivalry which is supposedly rich in history and spreads across cricket and rugby, the intensity was definitely in short supply — even if the stands were full with cricket fans of all hues.

Could it be Australia’s dominance in recent times which has taken the fizz out of these contests? There is a Trans-Tasman Trophy in existence in Tests, which has been in vogue from the mid-80s, but its mass appeal tastes like chalk and cheese compared to Australia versus England matchups now. The one-sided nature of the contests, which has seen Australia winning 23 of the 42 Tests so far (compared to New Zealand’s six), could be one of the factors — while some of the fans of both countries that I spoke to made light of their sporting rivalry in recent times.

Greg Bridly, a New Zealander seated next to me, admitted that the rivalry is more pronounced in rugby — where the situation is reverse with the All Blacks having a sweeping run in recent years. He, however, added at the same breath that their cricket contests — at the best of times — is not a patch on the explosive nature of an India-Pakistan contest.

Is it then fair to say that England may be the ‘home of cricket,’ but it’s the subcontinent where it’s heart beats now — thanks to it’s fans?