So India won. But there is always more to cricket than scores, fours, sixes and wickets. You would need to be an expert on history, sociology and politics to pick up on all the subtext whenever they play Pakistan, although the state of the relations between the two nations means the fixture comes around only in tournaments now.
The schedulers always make sure to pair them in the group stages, whether it is the World Cup, the Champions Trophy, the World T20 or the Commonwealth Games. This match, which was lit up by Smriti Mandhana’s brilliant batting, had more going on underneath it than even most of those.
These Games are part of the ICC’s attempt to persuade the International Olympic Committee to include cricket in the Olympics. There are one-and-a-half billion good reasons for them to do it and another 20 million or so in the diaspora. India’s relative lack of success in other sports (they have won 10 gold medals in 120 years of Olympic competition) has held the Games back in that market. But the individual athletes who have won gold medals recently, rifle shooter Abhinav Bindra and javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, became so famous off the back of it that the IOC has a pretty clear idea of what it would be worth if they can break into it.
Which is one reason why it recently agreed to hold its next annual session in Mumbai. Bringing in cricket would do it, too. The trouble is the sport is not all that well-suited to the Games’ current aims. It is intricate and obscure, impenetrable to outsiders and often seems ridiculous even to those in the know. In Tokyo, Paris and Los Angeles it would need large, complicated, single-use venues which the locals would have precious little use for. And it brings with it an enormous number of players, who all need to be housed in the athletes village but very few of whom actually have a chance of winning the thing.
Besides which, the schedule is already so congested it is unclear whether the ICC could even guarantee its star players would even be free to compete in it. Which is why the Commonwealth Games is only hosting a women’s tournament. There simply wasn’t the space in the men’s schedule to fit this in. And the last thing the IOC needs when it is trying to sell the game to the Olympics is a tournament their most high profile players skip because it is so low down their list of priorities. Oh yes, and it is entirely at the mercy of the weather, so if it is raining the TV companies have nothing to screen.
The flip side, as every right-thinking person knows, is that cricket is the greatest sport going and ranks somewhere between the Mona Lisa and the moon landings among the pinnacles of human achievement.
India v Pakistan, the tent-pole game of the tournament, showcased some of the best and worst of it. The start was delayed twice by rain, and for a time it seemed as though they may struggle to get playing at all. It finally cleared 35 minutes after the scheduled start, which meant the innings were reduced to 18 overs each, the powerplay cut down to five overs, and three bowlers on each team could bowl four overs each and two more could bowl three. Just try fitting all that into a pithy 30-second video to explain the laws to a new audience. Not that they needed that at Edgbaston.
There were plenty of people here but it was not the sold out crowd the organisers had promised. Midway through the day they offered everyone free entry to the second game of the day, too, between Australia and Barbados, a sensible response to the fact that sales have not gone as well as they could have. They sent out a press release midway through saying the Games had broken the record for total ticket sales at a women’s tournament but still the stadium has not been half full yet. There is talk that people bought tickets then did not come, perhaps because they did not realise it was a women’s game, perhaps because it clashed with other events.
More fool them. Because it was a brilliant match, with more than enough action in it to make up for the fact that India won it so easily. Pakistan’s innings turned on the ninth over, bowled by Sneh Rana. They had been one for none after nine balls but Muneeba Ali and Bismah Maroof rebuilt the innings with a 50-run partnership.
Then Rana dismissed them both in a single over, Maroof lbw, Ali caught and bowled. A couple of run-outs later in the innings meant Pakistan never really rallied and they lost five wickets in the final eight deliveries trying to get their total up above a hundred.
Mandhana then laid on a power batting spectacular, fours to all corners, sixes down the ground and over mid-wicket. Her 50 came off 31 balls and the match was as good as over by the time she reached it. In the stands they were laughing and dancing and roaring and chanting as she did it, and maybe, far away in its headquarters in Switzerland, the IOC was watching and listening, one eye on the TV viewing figures in India, the other on the schedule for LA 2028.