To the haters: It’s a battle of teams, not nations!

An Indian cricket fan waves the national flag during Indian team’s training at The Punjab Cricket Associaton (PCA) Stadium in Mohali. PHOTO: AFP

The semi-final between Pakistan and India – dubbed the mother of all battles – finally takes place today.

Every cricket fan and everyone else – who may or may not be interested in cricket – has been touched by the anticipation in the air.

However, while the contagious excitement has spread joy, several souls seem to be miffed. In their effort to be ambassadors of peace, they have accused us, the ‘cricket crazies’, of being jingoistic and nationalistic. But they seem to have completely missed the point.

What makes this semi-final, or any other Pakistan-India match, such a thriller is not the “decades-old rivalry between the nuclear-armed nations that have fought three wars”. Rather, it’s because Pakistan and India so rarely play against each other. The last time the teams met in a World Cup match was in March 2003. In other ODI tournaments, their last match was in the Asia Cup in June 2010 and the head-to-head series launched in 2004 grinded to a halt in 2007.

This is why for us – those who actually follow cricket – it is such a big deal. We don’t see it as a contest between Pakistan and India the countries, we see it as a contest between Pakistan and India the teams. We see it as a contest between wizards with the bat and magicians with the ball. We see it as a contest between Sachin Tendulkar and Shoaib Akhtar, or Virender Sehwag and Umar Gul. While watching or discussing the match, a true cricket fan is least bothered with which country has bigger nuclear stockpiles. Our thoughts centre on a beautiful swinging yorker or a devastating sixer.

Just because I am hyper-excited and emotionally involved every time Pakistan face India does not mean I do not want peace in the region or yearn for it any less than someone who couldn’t care less about the match.

Competition in sport is natural. In fact, the biennial 129-year-old Ashes series between England and Australia is still followed religiously by fans in those countries.

A match is, after all, a contest and only one side can win. There is no logic behind supporting both sides, so I might as well choose one and hope that the best team wins.