Hordes of amateur, hate-mongering cyber ninjas are out in full force on social media ahead of the Ahmedabad game, the finite wells of their imagination being constantly refilled by numerous ‘thought-leaders’ – flag-waving, profit-seeking influencers on either side of the great divide who fancy their chances at playing spinmeister.It’s the great circus before, after and during the circus. It’s ‘bot’ time.
Ahmedabad cricket fans gear up for India-Pakistan match with body Paintings
Sometimes these mega-influencers are ex-cricketers themselves, falling over each other in the quest for fresh hordes which will click the ‘follow’ button, fuelling either instant negative emotion or ephemeral nationalistic fervour – but rarely, if ever, cold indifference.
That’s how deep cricket runs in our collective veins, though sometimes, of course, either narrative can comically run its course. As Pakistan were cantering to a grand win over Sri Lanka the other night, a frequent ‘X’ poseur felt the exhaustion deep in his bones, simply posting a picture of Mohammad Rizwan and blandly exclaiming, “Let’s laugh at them.” No exclamation. Now isn’t that a charming way to cede ground.
So whichever way your bile sack of cricket loyalty swings on Saturday, it’s good news for business, good news for the sport and instant windfall for advertisers.
The ‘divide-and-rule’ policy wasn’t originally intended for sporting profit, but the bilateral cricket blockade between India and Pakistan has turned it into just that – if it’s a multilateral event or a World Cup featuring India and Pakistan, it’s bonanza time.
On social media, there will be general uproar, cruel rib-tickling and caustic fun. There will be a whole lot of overblown incendiary ranting. There will be money made. Logic will not get a ticket into this arena.
On the ground there will be flag-waving too, though hopefully tempered with the sobering effect of real-world interaction, as the grand welcome for the Pakistanis in Hyderabad showed. There will be song and dance and celebrity sightings inside the stadium.
In Melbourne last year during the T20 World Cup, Indian and Pakistani supporters even got into a hug-fest below the Shane Warne statue, though apparently there aren’t that many visas issued this time around.
Hotel and airline stocks have soared, and conservative estimates indicate Rs 22,000 crore will be added to the economy from this World Cup, according to a Bloomberg report, a large chunk fuelled by this one particular game.
Many of the usually surly kinds here won’t even mind Pakistan’s presence or even victory – god forbid – since the BCCI is now set to receive 38.5% of the ICC’s surplus earnings from 2024-27, up from 22% share in the current 2015-23 cycle.
No other ICC Full Member has a double-digit percentage share. No matter who wins on the ground, India remains ‘big daddy’.
Reality isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, though. For many who manage a seat in Ahmedabad, the sole mission will be to provide vicarious pleasure for those who will ‘like’ their constant posts on social media, and even for those who will vehemently express their displeasure. Any which way, it drives up the views.
Even as the anticipation reaches fever pitch, it comes as a breath of fresh air that so far – so far only – the cricketers themselves have kept it hyper real and refrained from flexing their muscles off the field.
In fact, they have gone out of their way to display bonhomie with their counterparts from across the border.
A Kohli can nonchalantly meet a Babar. Haris Rauf can chat with Kohli on camera, no doubt raising the hackles of many. Shaheen can gift Bumrah something for his newborn, and Bumrah can bow and smile and say ‘thank you’ many times for the pleasure of the cameras.
This no doubt confuses the cyber ninjas on both sides, who patiently await that one moment on the field when tempers will flare, so that keyboards can burst into action.
Hopefully that one moment will not come on Saturday, for there are other intangibles that also drive profit – like peace of mind. And at the end of it all, may that colossus of cliches – “cricket was the winner here” – be repeated ad nauseam.