Forget Kashmir; Cricket's Where the Real Battle Is

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India and Pakistan simply won’t allow anything as trivial as a nuclear arms race or a low-level war in Kashmir to disrupt something as important as a game of cricket. On Tuesday the two countries are playing on a grassy oval in Lancashire, England, to defend their national dignity with bat and ball. Tens of millions of their countrymen back in Asia have dropped what they’re doing to follow every last ball.

Over in England, where the match is being played, there’s concern that Indian and Pakistani fans may be tempted to have a go at each other in ways that are, well, just not cricket -– and the British authorities policing the match are reprising their 1947 role in the former colonies by partitioning Indians from Pakistanis. Still, far from George Orwell’s contention that sport is "war minus the shooting," cricket encounters between the two nations have tended to inspire an unlikely bonhomie between two peoples who have been in an almost permanent state of war for five decades. "When Pakistan won in Madras in February, the Indian crowd gave them a standing ovation," says TIME New Delhi correspondent Maseeh Rahman. "Ordinary people are more capable of reaching out than their politicians are." But with Pakistan hot favorites not only to humble their lackluster neighbors but also to win the World Cup itself, there’s a somewhat despondent attitude about the match in India. "Cricket has become bound up with national identity in India," says Rahman. "It’s very dear to the hearts of the nationalists." They may have to content themselves with the knowledge that while Pakistan has a vastly superior bowling attack, India has a bigger and better nuclear arsenal.