2009 is the year of the Ashes. The year when the English and the Australians will take the field as sworn enemies and arch rivals, determined to win the Ashes urn at any cost, come what may.
Thinking about the Ashes makes me recollect the distant past, when there were two other names who shared a similarly intense and perhaps much fiercer battle, bordering on a war path.
This rivalry was not just restricted to sports. It was a rivalry borne out of a political system, deeply wedged in the neutral ground of sports, especially cricket and hockey, and which formed the crux of their sports' history.
India and Pakistan; two countries which couldn't stand each other when it came to face-to-face encounters on the cricket pitch, with verbal slaying and third rate sledging. At times political aspirants promised highly coveted awards if a rival was able to destroy the other.
In the early 80s, all the way up to the 90s, tensions used to mount when the draw had these two countries paired up in the World Cup. With each country's desire to outlast the other, the onslaught turned really dirty and murky—lethal without any leeway.
Players hated each other and since the language wasn't a barrier, abuse used to fly back and forth. There were no moderates, it was all extremism out there to score a point.
An India-Pakistan match was like a final prior to a final; each was motivated to win because losing would be a matter of national pride. In those days, losing to any cricket team was permissible, except to Pakistan and vice versa!
Then from the late 90s, as the peace process began in the political sector, cricket started feeling the effects too. The rivalry crept towards peaceful and healthy banter, with players displaying staged passion.
Cricket tours were instigated between the two nations, to promote an atmosphere of brotherhood and compatibility; cricketers started becoming friends and everything seemed hunky dory.
But amidst all these niceties, there was still something missing. The killer instinct disappeared completely and the intensity started to abate. The rivalry started going to seed—the meetings were nothing like they used to be.
Now, the only place where the Indo-Pakistani battle can be seen is in cricket history books or when a cricketer of yore comments on what it was like back in the good old ugly days, when these two nations got ready for what resembled warfare on a green turf!