Everyone is sitting in the same room, some very close to the TV as if they can control things by sitting close to the screen. Some outside the lounge to avoid the visuals, responding only to the audio cues. Some trying to change fate by doing tasbeeh. And some holding a chappal permanently pose an imminent danger to either the TV screen or to the people around them. Because if things went south, the chappal will go north. And who even has the mental presence to timely register the oncoming chappal? I mean who even cares whatever the world is coming to when Pakistan is playing against India in a World Cup match?

This is how this grand event has been witnessed in my family. This is how it has always been. I am sure this is how it is for every cricket-obsessed home in Pakistan and perhaps even across the border. The historical fact that Pakistan continues its tradition of losing to India in grand cricket events gets completely lost on us whenever we have to face India. Even the people who have given up on cricket and believe it is a personality trait to say “I don’t watch cricket anymore” metamorphose overnight and become senior cricket analysts on match day. They are kind of annoying but we, the cricket enthusiasts, let them be part of our world as it is Pakistan playing against India.

From jingoist expressions to “what a ridiculously talented Indian team is”, the emotions vary among people but the focus remains the same: win against India. Thrash them. Humiliate them. None of these events happen in the World Cup but the sentiments remain the same. Every match against India becomes an opportunity for the Pakistani team to rise from the ashes. I mean, they aren’t even in ashes though but you get what I am saying, right? It is an opportunity for the revival of faith in this country for at least one week. The entire country goes into a trance. You go to a local grocery store, tandoor or even a random corner of the street, all you would hear is, “Fer, tayaari ay?” (Are you ready?). I have been a regular witness of analysis at tandoor shops where they don’t have a TV and solely rely on radio commentary on their phones. You can easily get away with stealing things at shops with TV because the shopkeeper will be lost on the screen. Their positivity is contagious. Their josh and daleri are difficult to find anywhere else. It gives you hope even when Pakistan has to score 70 runs off 2 balls to win the match. It’s insane, I know.

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In an attempt to keep my josh under control, I remind myself of Pakistan’s defeat against India in the quarter-final match of the 1996 World Cup. The Bangalore Defeat, I call it. I can still recall the pain of that defeat. I remember locking myself in the bathroom and crying uncontrollably. I felt for the first time that this is it. No more cricket for me. That loss still haunts me whenever the Pakistan vs India discussion begins. I often find myself recalling this truly tragic loss even during conversations that have nothing to do with cricket. For instance, I had amazing seafood in Karachi and I was like, “Glad I had it as Lahore doesn’t offer much taste,” followed by my internal scream, “Haan but we didn’t win against India in 96. Who is gonna fill that void?”. Do you understand the gravity of this loss yet?

And now that we are set to play our first match against India in the T20 World Cup 2021 edition, that same loss has taken over my life and I am looking forward to the 190th attempt to fill that void by winning against India. The odds are against us, the world is against us, and even we are against ourselves as we keep playing the dinosaurs in our team but nothing could be against our josh for this game. We are gonna give it our best. We will forget what the petrol rate is for 12 hours. We will forget how we love Rohit Sharma or Kohli. We will forget how Shah Rukh Khan is the best thing to come out of India. And of course, we will forget that the notification for DG ISI hasn’t been released. We will remember just one thing. Cricket.

Hope in Babar Azam, pride in Shaheen Afridi, love for Rizwan, and faith in Haris Rauf to not bowl the death overs. Over to you, Team Pakistan. You might not have done it before but you can do it now!

As for Kohli, I love Anushka more.