A cricket match took place in Manchester on Sunday — one team won, the other team lost. That’s the simple version of the story, but if you attach names to the two teams, the match changes from a plain game on the green to a contest in geopolitics, ideologies, even belief systems. The match was between India and Pakistan, of course. India won, scoring their seventh consecutive World Cup win over their neighbours-archrivals in cricket’s 50-over showpiece event. Cliché has it that it was just a game of cricket, but the atmosphere at the ground, charged with emotion, gave the lie to this cliché. Even Imran Khan, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, felt compelled to don his cricketing hat and advise his team on how to go about doing the job.
India were clearly the superior team. Pakistan won the toss and elected to bowl first — batting second in the rain-affected match gave Pakistan a clear advantage — but India managed to put up a score that was clearly beyond the powers of Pakistan’s batsmen. Rohit Sharma scored a brilliant century, his second of the tournament. In his last five World Cup innings, going back to Australia in 2015, he has made 140, 57, 122*, 34 and 137. His World Cup average is an exceptional 72.11. Virat Kohli is the darling of the masses, but Rohit’s importance to the team can’t be emphasised enough. India’s bowling was exceptional, too, as the pacers put a tight leash on the very attacking Pakistani top-order.
The win — coming on the heels of great performances against South Africa and Australia — underlined India’s status as a very strong contender to win the World Cup. It also smoothed their path to a place in the semifinals. India would hope to win most of the remaining matches, with only England expected to give them a tough fight. Kohli’s men have got the Pakistan game — the most high-pressure match of the league stage — out of the way. They would go into the rest of the matches with a feeling of lightness. They’ve beaten Pakistan, and the weight of expectations has been lifted.