2012 Award Show

I am pleased to present the first annual Limited Overs World Cricket Awards:

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Match of the Year:

This is going to come as a surprise to my regular readers, but the match of the year, in my opinion, was not a Test, or even an ODI, it was a Twenty20. And the winner is:

India vs Pakistan, 1st T20I, at Bangalore.

The match really did have everything: two old enemies engaging in a bilateral series for the first time in over four years. It had, in the words of the Cricinfo ball by ball commenter: “Collapses, fightbacks, flare-ups, tension.”

It was India v Pakistan in a T20 under the floodlights in front of 70,000 fans plus millions more worldwide watching on satellite TV, on legal streams, on illegal streams…in the USA, in Australia, in England. The whole of world cricket sat down for three hours to watch. And we were not disappointed.

India v Pakistan, in a T20, under the floodlights. It looked like cricket’s future and its past and its present all at the same time.

The future of cricket depends on this rivalry and on this format. And for that reason alone it deserves this award.

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Honorable mention: see next award.

Test of the Year:

I added this category at the last minute because a test match did not win the Match of the Year award.

And the winner is:

England v South Africa, 3rd Test, at Lord’s.

The match went the distance, and it included a spirited final day fight back from the English, though it was in vain in the end.

It was Lord’s in August, number one vs number two, and it ended England’s short and disastrous reign as the number one Test side.

It included a lovely 95 from Jonny Bairstow, a match winning century from Hashim Amla (who was enjoying the summer of his life), and a hard earned and spirited 73 from England’s wicketkeeper, Matt Prior.

The match launched South Africa into the difficult role as the number one Test side, a status which they defended and cemented a few months later in Australia.

Most importantly, the match was final Test of a three Test series, and one could not wonder what these two teams could have done with five or even four tests.

It was a prime example of how three Test series are disappointing and terrible for the Test format overall; and a reminder that three Test series are becoming the norm.

I realize the irony of the above paragraphs considering my Match of the Year was of the format that is supposedly killing Test cricket.

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Honorable mention: Australia v South Africa, 2nd Test, at Adelaide Oval

Series of the Year

And the winner is:

The 2012 ICC World Twenty20

This tournament, while not really a series per se, won not because of the cricket itself, but because of its winner: The West Indies. Their first World Cup win since 1979.

Cricket needs a strong West Indies, and here’s hoping this victory inspires another generation of young Caribbean cricketers to pick up the leather and the willow.

And not only did they win it, they won it with style.

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Honorable mention: Pakistan v England, Three Test Series

Knock of the Year

Despite picking KP’s knock at Leeds as my second favorite moment on the pitch this year, the winner is:

Hashim Amla’s 311 not out against England at the Oval

I wrote it about it here:

“This 29 year old, quiet, devout young man walked out onto a ground 10,000 miles from his home, that was built 148 years before he was born, and on a perfect July weekend on the far edge of the world’s greatest city, simply batted for 790 minutes, a hair over 13 hours, scoring 311 runs along the way.”

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Honorable mention: KP’s 149 against South Africa at Leeds

Team of the Year

This is an easy one:

South Africa

They went to England as number two, and they left as number one. They then went to Australia and cemented that status.

They did all of the above with grit, courage, style, and spirit – and they did it despite losing their wicketkeeper in a freak accident one day before the first Test in England – and they did it without losing a single Test.

And for a short period over the summer, they were also the number one ODI team.

They played 38 total matches, winning 21, losing 10, drawing five, with two no results.

And they show no signs of slowing down.

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Honorable mention: The West Indies

Cricketer of the Year

This is the only controversial pick:

Kevin Pietersen

He didn’t score the most runs this year, not by a long shot, that honor went to Michael Clarke’s outstanding 2,251 in all formats, but he did score a lot: the fourth most Test runs (1,051), and the 14th most runs in all formats (1,446).

And his teams did not have the greatest of seasons: England’s struggles in 2012 are well documented, the Delhi Daredevils were knocked out in a preliminary final despite a fine regular season, and his County side, Surrey, finished the campaign trophy-less.

However.

His retirement from one-day cricket, followed by the ECB dropping him from the Test squad, followed by his reinstatement to all formats, goes to show that the power of the national boards is slipping away, while the power of the individual players continues to grow.

KP’s retirement in the future will be looked as the beginning of a player-led revolution.

It was a game changer.

He said to the ECB: I am bigger than you. I am more important than you. You don’t own me. And I don’t need you.

He didn’t score the most runs, his teams didn’t win anything, but his year was by far the most important to the future of the game, and therefore well deserving of this award.

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Honorable mention (tie): Michael Clarke, Hashim Amla, and Sachin Tendulkar.

Obituaries

There were two deaths over the last couple of days that I would like to make note of.

First of all, there was former England captain and announcer, Tony Greig.

I did not know Tony as a player. But I wholeheartedly enjoyed his commentary, and his Twitter feed. His death on Friday was sudden and heartbreaking. I have a hard time reading back over his recent tweets. They sound so hopeful and in that hope lies the tragedy and the sadness. He was going to watch the Boxing Day Test with his son. It didn’t go the full five days, which most of us bemoaned; but at least Tony got to see one final result.

His tweets remind me of some e-mails I received from my Uncle Mike in his last days. Guarded hope and every day annoyances.

Singer Fiona Apple, in a letter to fans cancelling a tour, discussed how we should learn to treasure, not fear, our last few days. I guess I do and do not believe that. I like the fact that Tony Greig, and my Uncle Mike, got to spend their last few days just doing the things they have always done…watching cricket, designing pens…instead of spending all of their time treasuring something as vast and wide and complicated as life in the shadow of its own ending.

At the same time, for my family, and for Tony Greig’s, it would have been nice to have had a chance to say goodbye.

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I did not know Tony, as a player, as a teammate, as a captain, as a friend, or as a father. But I did know him. As I posted when Tom Maynard was killed earlier this year:

“Some people will cast spurious glances at those of us who grieve when celebrities die – but I think it is perfectly okay to mourn those in the spotlight, even if they were not close friends or family. Their lives touch ours in very unique ways, and so it follows that their deaths would do so, as well.”

I stand by that statement. And I will add that when celebrities die, it reminds us of who we have lost; which is something worth being reminded of.

Rest in peace, Mr. Greig.

Rest in peace, Uncle Mike.

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The second death was, of course, the death of Damini in Singapore.

I read the news as I was posting my year end review the other day. I felt churlish and silly. I cannot comprehend her pain; my dark moments are sunshine and roses compared to her positively hellish final weeks on this planet.

And I am not going to comment on the cultural aspects involved here. I am not qualified to. And speaking as an American, and considering our cultural “problems” that were laid bare in Sandy Hook earlier this month, I really do not have a right to speak: to denounce, to demean. And, as evidenced in our election season, Americans have their own issues with regard to how women are treated.

I will say this, however, because it concerns cricket, and that’s what this blog is about, even if it seems flippant at this moment to do so: if India wants a seat at the table, if it wants to be taken seriously, then this needs to stop.

And by table, all mean all tables: politics, economics…and sport.

I get asked a lot if cricket will ever take off in America. And the answer is now a maybe but also now includes a final qualifier:

Stop treating women like you do.

Stop it.

Stop it now.

And even if you don’t want a seat at the table, even if you don’t want cricket to work in in America:

Stop treaking women like you do.

Stop it.

Stop it now.

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2012 – A Review

A lot happened this year.

A lot.

Sachin Tendulkar retired from one day cricket. Ricky Ponting retired. Rahul Dravid retired. Mark Boucher retired. And that list goes on for a bit, but no longer includes, strangely enough, Kevin Pietersen.

Meanwhile, a crop of cricketers spent the year entering the most brilliant periods of their young careers: Michael Clarke, Alastair Cook.

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The West Indies won a one-day World Cup.

India collapsed. In Australia,  and in India.

England collapsed. In the UAE, and in England.

South Africa cemented their status as world number one.

And Pakistan started a bilateral series against India for the first time since 2008.

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Sachin Tendulkar, after what was surely the most agonizing and frustrated period of his career, hit his 100th international century.

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My favorite blog post of the year was “All Ten” from the Old Batsman.

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My favorite blog post that I wrote was probably this one.

My most read blog post was this one.

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I have doubled my monthly page views since January.

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I posted 161 times. A little less than one post every other day. Not the rate I was hoping for at the beginning of the year, but pretty good by my own standards and considering that, up until October, I was going to school and working full time.

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My wife released her second album.

To rave reviews.

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We got a new dog. I got a new job.

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This post contains my 2012 blog related resolutions. Except for number six, I accomplished none of them.

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The best decision I made all year, blog related, was to stop it with the confusing blog titles already.

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I was asked to write a book review by Graywolf Press.

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I started the World Cricket Internet Schedule for U.S. Viewers.

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My favorite moment, cricket wise, and not related to this blog, of 2012, was the very first ball of the Australian summer this past November.

Second was Kevin Pietersen’s century against South Africa at Leeds.

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This was also the year I learned that Kevin Pietersen’s middle name is Peter.

Kevin Peter Pietersen.

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In 2012, there were two Test triple centuries and eight Test double centuries.

There were three Test seven-fers, from the most unlikely sources: Ajmal, Broad, and Southee.

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And that, in so many words, was the year. In cricket, and here on the blog. I am sure I missed the five biggest cricket stories, if not the 10 biggest, and I am also quite that this will be the lamest, and most self serving, year end review you will read all week.

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What I did not mention was that this year, as I have alluded to on several occasions, was a very, very difficult year for me, personally. I am not going to go into detail, because it is really not that exciting, but the worst part of all it is that it is all self induced.

I am in a dark place because of my own mistakes.

And that can be a tough pill to swallow.

The good news is that things are getting better, and better, and despite everything I was able to be an active part of this amazing cricket blogging community. The fact that I was able to write over 150 posts this year despite school, despite everything, goes to show that this place is my refuge, my sanctuary. And while I may write about Hashim Amla, I have found it is just as cathartic as writing about anything else.

The good days are the days I post.

And that is why I am not going to write a list of my 2013 blog related resolutions. Because there is only one:

Keep writing about cricket.

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This weekend I will post my 2012 Awards. Cricketer of the year, match of the year…etc. Keep an eye out. And thanks for reading.

17 Matches

Michael Clarke, captain of Australia: 11 matches, 18 innings, 1,595 runs – Most Test runs in 2012, calendar year. Average: 106.33. Hundreds: Five.

Alastair Cook, captain of England: 15 matches, 29 innings, 1,249 runs – 2nd Most Test runs in 2012, calendar year. Average: 48.03. Hundreds: Six.

If that does not whet your appetite for the 2013 Ashes, then nothing will. Two captains at the absolute height of their powers.

Though, of course, truthfully, Cook was not captain for the bulk of the year. However, in just four matches as captain, he scored 562 of his 1,249 runs and averaged a whopping 80.28 with three centuries. The armband suits him.

He suits England.

The first Test of the five Test series starts on 10 July at Trent Bridge in Nottingham.

And that is just one amazing series to look forward to next year.

There is also South Africa v Pakistan, India v Australia, and the second incarnation of the Ashes, this time in Australia, in November.

There will be 94 Test matches next year. The four series mentioned above account for 17 of them.

Other highlights:

Well, India will go to South Africa in the fall of next year for a few, Pakistan will “host” South Africa for a few more, and the resurgent West Indies will host Pakistan over the summer for a couple.

The rest of the matches feature non-Test-hardened sides like Sri Lanka, and New Zealand (sorry to all my Kiwi friends), and Zimbabwe, and Bangladesh – and after watching Australia toy with Sri Lanka, I really cannot say I am dying to watch the Lankans or the rest play Test cricket again any time soon.

So the bulk of the fun, for Test fanatics, will be the four series mentioned above: The Ashes in England, the Ashes in Australia, South Africa v Pakistan, in South Africa*, and Australia in India.

17 matches to savor.

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My 2012 round up and 2013 resolution posts should go up this weekend.

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*Matches in the UAE are not available here in the States, so I did not include these reverse fixtures

Same question, new answer

It’s Christmas morning.

I am up early with the dog and the coffee to watch India play Pakistan in a Twenty20.

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I get asked a lot of if cricket – specifically Twenty20 cricket – will ever take hold here in the states.

Nevermind the fact that the question is mildly, albeit unintentionally, insulting – as in, Americans could never like something as nuanced as Test cricket because they are boisterous and loud and lacking in attention spans – my answer has always been a qualified “maybe.”

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The question, and my answer, invariably revolve around a US-based, T20 league.

A league featuring a smattering of US players and a bunch of international one day mercenaries in cities where there are large ex-pat communities like San Francisco.

But I am watching India vs Pakistan this morning, and it is loud and swashbuckling and entertaining without being annoying (like the IPL; no dancers, no pop music), and I cannot help but retract what I said earlier about insulting and think to myself: Americans would watch this.

If this match was on ESPN, in HD, Americans would watch it.

It would be a novelty at first, like how we all watched Australian rules football in the 80s, but after 10, maybe 15, overs, a good majority of them would be hooked, and would tune in again.

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The key here is the rivalry, and the crowd, and the general atmosphere, and the entertaining cricket.

They would not watch the sub-par mercenary club cricket that a US league would produce, they would not watch England v New Zealand in a half empty Oval, but they would watch India v Pakistan, and other entertaining sides with a well defined rivalry, play Twenty20 cricket.

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And so now I have two answers to the question above: a US league? Maybe. But they would definitely watch big-time T20 internationals.

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Merry Christmas to all my readers.

One Long Day

And, so, Sachin Tendulkar has retired…

…from one day cricket.

It is as if we were all expecting a massive earthquake, a seismic event that would rattle the very core of this sport we all love; but instead there was just a small rumble, enough to shake the dishes in the cupboard but little else.

Cricket writers, both the paid and unpaid versions, were ready the world over to hit “publish” on their Sachin retirement posts – most of which had been written sometime between the Test against England at the Oval last summer and the Test against England at Nagpur last week.

But like a flurry of wickets at the end of a day’s play, the script had been rewritten, and so with it all the sportswriters’ copy.

He was retiring, but only from one day cricket; stop the presses.

This is not to say that Sachin retiring from ODIs is not a big deal. It is a very big deal. He redefined the genre. He did for cricket what Nirvana did to rock music. It’s just that, well, his announcement felt a little…disappointing. It missed the mark, expectation wise.

We were expecting New York Strip, instead we got meat loaf.*

Now, I was not hoping for him to retire from all formats, but the kind of a send off he would have gotten, like the one Dravid received, would have been the kind of send off he deserved. Now all the posts I am reading feel half hearted, like they really aren’t as sad as they had hoped they would be. His ODI stats are remarkable, of course, but it is when they are combined with his Test stats that he becomes God-like. And can you really go on for 1,000 words, lyrically eulogizing him with platitudes and whispers and tears and metaphors when he is only retiring from one format?

It’s almost as if, for the first time in his career, he did not do the thing we all expected from him – he went against tradition, against the system, and decided to do it differently than Dravid, than VVS. And in doing so, he disappointed us.

Or maybe his hand was forced by the BCCI, which means that retiring solely from ODIs was definitely Sachin staying true to form: doing what it is required, and not asking questions.

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All of the above said, he is no longer an active participant in the format he changed forever, and that is a story. Maybe not the story we were hoping to write, but a story nonetheless.

One day cricket is here to stay, and one can argue that Sachin is the  reason why it is here to stay. I am not quite sure if that is the right legacy for him, or one that he deserves, but it is still a powerful legacy to behold. In a game beloved by two billion people from the village cricket fields of southern England to the Mumbai backstreets, one man changed one facet of it forever. And that is something worth noting.

When Presidents in America leave office, historians always ask: what will their legacy be?

With Lincoln it was the Civil War; with Wilson the depression; with FDR the new deal and World War II; with Carter inflation and hostages; with Bush Jr. Iraq.

For Sachin, I feel it will be the ODI format.

Right or wrong, that is my opinion.

And the fact that he is retiring from the format he reinvented means there is room for another to possibly step up, and change it forever again, positively or negatively.

Which I think is an exciting prospect.

Cricket in general, and one day cricket specifically, and Indian cricket even more specifically, are going through a rebuilding phase, which is something all fans enjoy**, despite the depths we have to endure before the rebuilding begins in earnest. Change brings light into darkness.

India’s ODI squad in the 2015 World Cup will look vastly different than it did in 2011, and so could the sport in general. I am looking forward to seeing the changes that both bring to this wonderful, old, but still evolving, game that I love.

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*I am a vegetarian.

**Jarrod Kimber wrote a post about this that I cannot seem to find, otherwise I would have properly cited with a link.

India v Pakistan

On Christmas Day, 2012, India will play Pakistan in a cricket match in Bangalore.

It is the first of a five match series, two Twenty20s and three ODIs, and their first series since 2008, though they have played each other five times since 2009 in various tournaments.

The two nations have played each other 183 times since 1952 in all formats and all competitions. India has won 59; Pakistan has won 81; there was one tie; there were 38 draws; and four no results.

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Since the partition of India in 1947, India and Pakistan, both nuclear states, have been involved in four officially declared wars: 1947, 1965, 1971, and 1999.

The casualty figures for those conflicts are spotty at best, with each side claiming different numbers, but the total military deaths are close to 20,000 – and that does not even take into account civilian killed and wounded, or the atrocities in Bangladesh, or the war spawned diseases and famines.

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The first cricket match between the two countries took place in 1952 in Delhi. India won by an innings and 70 runs. India scored 372 in their first innings, Pakistan replied with only 150, was forced to follow on, but only scored 152.

Vinoo Mankad, infamous for other reasons, took 12 wickets: four in the first innings and eight in the second.

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The conflict in 1947, also known as the First Kashmir war, began when Pakistan invaded the Kashmir region out of fear that it was going accede to India. The UN negotiated peace in 1948, splitting the Kashmir between the two nations.

At least three thousand soldiers were killed, and at least eight thousand were wounded.

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Between 28 November 1952 and 13 February 1961, India and Pakistan played each other in 12 Test matches…every single one of them ended in a draw.

Due to the second and third aforementioned conflicts, after the draw in 1961, they would not play another cricket match until an ODI in October of 1978, a seventeen year gap.

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The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 was once again a conflict over the Kashmir region. It lasted only six weeks, but both sides suffered thousands of casualties – over 6,800 total based on neutral estimates. According to Wikipedia, the largest tank battle since World War 2 took place during the five weeks of fighting.

The shooting stopped because of a UN mandated cease fire.

There were no permanent territorial changes.

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The two nations have played each other in a World Cup five times: 1992, 1996, 1999, 2003, and 2011.

India have won all five matches.

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In 1971, India intervened in the Bangladesh Liberation Movement, inciting full scale hostilities between India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, then known as East Pakistan. It was by far the bloodiest of the three conflicts, even though it was the shortest: over 12,000 were killed in just two weeks of fighting.

India and Bangladesh won a massive victory, and East Pakistan became the Independent State of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s cricket team would be promoted to full Test status in November of 2000.

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India and Pakistan have played 59 Test matches: India have won 9, Pakistan have won 12, and there have been 38 draws.

They have played 121 One Day Internationals: India have won 48, and Pakistan have won 69.

They have played three Twenty20s: India have won 2, Pakistan have won zero, and there was one tie.

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In 1974, India went nuclear.

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Sachin Tendulkar has, of course, scored the most runs over the 60 year history of the rivalry with 2,474.

Wasim Akram has taken the most wickets, with 60.

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In 1998, Pakistan went nuclear.

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53 of the 183 matches have been played in Pakistan. The first was in 1955, the last one was in 2008 – and that could very well be the last one ever, after the attacks in Mumbai in 2009.

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In 1999, the fourth conflict, known as the Kargil War, took place. Pakistan moved troops into the Kashmir region, thinking it’s nuclear weapons would deter an escalation, the gamble proved wrong, and superior Indian forces forced Pakistan troops to retreat. Over 1,000 lives were lost, and the fighting, while sporadic, took place throughout May, June, and July of 1999.

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India and Pakistan’s only match to take place during an armed conflict between the two nations was in June of 1999, during the World Cup, in Manchester, England. India’s innings featured fine 50s from Dravid and Azharuddin, setting a score of 227 for Pakistan to chase, but they fell short by 47 runs.

Venkatesh Prasad took five wickets for India.

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Since 2000 the relations between the two nations have ebbed and flowed, but never have they been what anyone would call friendly. And the attacks in Mumbai in 2009 set relations back a decade. These upcoming matches are a big step, however. Even though at the end of the day they are just cricket games, they are far more important than that; they are baby steps towards peace between two of the largest nations on earth.

It is by far the most interesting, complicated, and intense sports rivalry on earth.

Hopefully, the matches will go off without a hitch this December and January.

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Addendum:

I cannot believe I forgot to mention this in this post, because I have written about it before on several occasions: the national cricket stadium in Lahore, Pakistan is officially known as Gaddafi Stadium. Yes, that Gaddafi. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi – the former Libyan dictator.

It is named after him because in 1974 he gave a speech in Lahore in which he spoke in favor of Pakistan’s right to pursue nuclear weapons.

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And, yes, India have played Pakistan in the Gaddafi stadium, the ground named after the man who said Pakistan should get nuclear weapons in order to defend themselves from the recently nuclear India.

It’s all so…complicated…and surreal…and for lack of a better term: foreign.

Anyway, they have played each other 13 times at the ground. India has won four, Pakistan has four, and the rest were draws.

An interesting footnote to the history of a fascinating rivalry.