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The joys of India v Pakistan by proxy

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As I sit here watching the first semi-final of the Champions League T20 tournament I'm reminded of how disappointed I am that Lahore Lions crashed out and failed to qualify for the knockout stage. For if there was one thing that would have made the closing stages of this often-despised tournament more interesting, it would have been the presence of a Pakistani team. I make such a claim not because Pakistani cricketers are "mercurial", "capable of gold one day and dross the next", the most entertaining, skillful T20 players in the world, or anything else like that. RELATED LINKSSeries/Tournaments: Champions League Twenty20 Teams: India | Pakistan Rather, quite straightforwardly, a Pakistani team would have provided some much-needed frisson to the games - especially in their encounters with IPL teams. As my Twitter timeline seemed to show, these encounters were the only ones of the Champions League that brought out a little tribal edginess in fans, Indian and Pakistani alike. The reasons for this are not hard to find. An encounter between an IPL team and Lahore Lions was always going to be a thinly disguised India-Pakistan game. Despite the presence of overseas players in the IPL teams' ranks, they are still viewed as "Indian teams" by Pakistani fans. And Lahore Lions, despite ostensibly representing only the city of Lahore, were most definitely Pakistani representatives. (My guess is that even Karachi-siders were willing to put aside the usual Lahore-Karachi rivalry to cheer on Lions in the Champions League.) Pakistani journalists and sports fans looked forward to their participation, and hopefully their eventual success in the Champions League, to provide a bold statement in favor of Pakistani participation in the IPL, a reminder of the delicacies missing in the IPL banquet. What better way to stake this claim than for a Pakistani team to triumphantly steal a march over the strongest IPL teams? When Lahore Lions began their Champions League campaign with a win over Mumbai Indians, this sentiment was quite clearly on display in the cheering that accompanied their triumph. All of which is a long-winded preliminary to saying that in these early days of franchise cricket, in a cricket world hitherto dominated by international rivalries, it is still very often the "international" clash that evokes the strongest emotional investment. My guess - a not very sophisticated one, mind you - is that if Indian fans continued to pay attention to the Champions League, it was to track the fortunes of the IPL teams, now cast as "Indian representatives" against "Australian" or "West Indian" teams. But those rivalries were never going to be as interesting as the India-Pakistan one, dimly visible through the veil of the T20 franchise uniform. The Champions League has many problems, despite offering a menu that many cricket fans have often expressed a desire for: encounters between the world's strongest domestic teams. Analysis of its failure to command sustained interest - the kind that shows up in television rankings, over and above the presence of packed stadiums - has been plentiful. (I wonder if there has been a more ignored tournament in recent cricketing history; it seems to evoke even more contempt than the dreaded triangular one-day competition.) I'm not going to add to that list of reasons - a saturated calendar, a cosmic "pointlessness" - here. For the time being, I think it is sufficient to say if it stood any chance at all of making a dent in the imagination of the T20 fan, it was to advertise marquee international encounters in the guise of games between domestic T20 franchises, to draw upon the tribalism that seems to lurk within most cricket fans' hearts. Finally, I'm especially crushed because the final I hoped for - Kings XI versus Lahore Lions - did not come to be. An Our Punjab versus Their Punjab T20 final? That would have me made me tune in. Now I don't think I'll bother with yet another IPL game. Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here RSS Feeds: Samir Chopra Keywords: India v Pakistan © ESPN Sports Media Ltd.



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