The headline in my morning newspaper sums it up – Relax, boys, it is just a match, Enjoy it. There was nothing else on the front page except cricket. India is nuts about cricket. And its obsessed with Pakistan. And when India and Pakistan play off against each other, it’s a deadly combo. Game of the Century the banner headline reads. Imagine that. It’s only 2011.


But it affects everything.

Even fashion.

The newspaper has makeup tips – how to paint the Indian flag on your face. Use poster paints. Three strokes as if you are applying blush.

It affects food. Avoid high carbs for lunch one article advises. A peanut salad and fruit platter will keep you alert and awake for the seven hour game.

People took a day off work. The Pakistani government gave employees half a day off. In cities all over the subcontinent they clustered on the street in front of electronics stores where the television was turned on to the match.

My friend was supposed to go to Mumbai for work on the day of the semi final. They postponed the trip because of fear of riots. The border security force is on Operation Alert. Anti aircraft missiles, 50 sniffer dogs, 1500 policemen guarding the team hotel. A bullet proof cabin was built for the Indian Prime Minister and his Pakistani counterpart so they could watch the game. It’s the first time the two met since the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. This is not a summit but cricket diplomacy is part of realpolitik here. India’s foreign secretary was at the match and Pakistan showed up with a 50 member delegation.

Both captains have issued statements that it’s a game, not war. It’s not war said Pakistan’s Interior Minister. But the media doesn’t care. When it’s India vs Pakistan it’s always war. IBN Live television screams India vs Pakistan: It’s War at Mohali. On the Bengali television channel there were constant promos for the upcoming Mahayudh or Great War.

Once a gentleman’s game, cricket has found its machismo. The Indian team is splashed all over billboards, bare-chested, muscles bulging, their bodies painted like tribal warriors. And all that testosterone has pumped up the war fever.

In the end India won.

The country exploded in fireworks. But the war is over. When India plays Sri Lanka in the final it’s going to be just cricket again. Though a Facebook status going around reads “Ram-Rahim ke is yudhh mein kahin Raavan world cup na le jaaye!” (In this great battle between Ram (Hindu) and Rahim (Muslim) hopefully Ravan (the demon-king of Lanka in the epic Ramayana who kidnapped Ram’s wife) doesn’t take away the World Cup.)

But if there was a war the real winner is ESPN Start Sports which bought the broadcasting rights for the tournament. It hiked its ad rates for the semi final five fold – about 45,000 dollars for a 10-second ad. Now that’s what I call the real spoils of war.