While March Madness may be commanding attention in the United States, on Saturday an even bigger sporting spectacle will take place, one that is sure to be one of the most watched contests of the year. India and Pakistan will face off in Kolkata in the latest edition of a fierce rivalry that extends far beyond the cricket pitch.
While it may fly under the radar in the U.S., some context for just how big an occasion it is when the two neighboring countries go head-to-head on the cricket pitch can be found in the estimated one billion people who tuned in to watch them play at the 2015 World Cup. This time around, they will be facing off in the World Twenty20, the showpiece global event of cricket’s newest and most explosive format where each team competes to rack up the highest score over just 20 overs. Wherever and whenever these sides meet, though, there is always plenty on the line.
“This rivalry is huge, it’s very hard to put a finger on and say how huge it is,” India bowler Ravichandran Ashwin said on the eve of Saturday’s match. “As far as Indians and Pakistanis go, I don’t think they watch this game as a game of cricket, it’s more of a border rivalry. They want to get one up on each other so there is much more to the game rather than the game itself taking center stage. As far as people are concerned, they put their emotions into the game. For the players, it’s about trying to keep the emotions aside and trying to play the game the best way we can.”
The two counties have had and continue to have strained relations since they became independent nations in 1947. Indeed, when they met at the 1999 cricket World Cup, the two countries were at war. Since the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008, for which India blamed Pakistan, relations have been strained once again, both diplomatically and on the cricket pitch.
While they were due to resume regular competition late last year, the Indian government refused to grant permission for its team to play Pakistan, even in a neutral setting. Pakistan is currently unable to play any matches at home after the visiting Sri Lankan team was fired upon when traveling on a bus during their tour of Pakistan in 2009.
Security issues meant this latest contest was in doubt right until last week. Pakistan had refused to travel to India for the World T20 until they received a security guarantee direct from the Indian government. Already it had been announced that Saturday’s match would be moved from its original venue in the hillside city of Dharamsala to the much larger Eden Gardens Stadium in Kolkata.
As for the match itself, the contest looks to be finely poised. Although India were in much better form coming into the tournament and have the historical edge over Pakistan in both the Twenty20 format and in World Cups, their performances in their opening matches has changed some perceptions. While India suffered a shock loss to New Zealand, Pakistan routed Bangladesh.
More than 66,000 people will be at Eden Gardens to see in the flesh what transpires. And many will have paid a princely sum to be there. Indeed, fans have been paying up to 20 times the face value to get their hands on a ticket, according to The Times of India.
“The craze seen this time is unprecedented,” chairman from the local Cricket Association Trustee Board in Bengal, Goutam Dasgupta, told Indian news agency IANS on Friday. “Maybe, decades back, scenes close to this were seen on some occasions, but not to this extent.”
Many more, though, will be watching around the world, particularly in countries with large expatriate populations like the United States and the United Kingdom. Here’s how to watch the match on TV and online across the globe.
India (7:30 p.m. IST): Star Sports, StarSports.com
Pakistan (7 p.m. PKT): PTV Sports, PTV.com
USA (10 a.m. EDT): Willow TV, Willow.TV
UK (2 p.m. GMT): Sky Sports 2, Sky Sports Go
Australia (1 a.m., Sunday ACT): Fox Sports 3, FoxtelGo
New Zealand (3 a.m., Sunday NZDT): Sky Sport Pop-Up, SkyGo
South Africa (4 p.m. SAST): SuperSport 2, SuperSport.com
Canada (10 a.m. EDT): ATN PPV
Caribbean (10 a.m. EDT): ESPN (ESPN Play)