Ind-Pak cricket awaits a new chapter
Arch-rivals to meet in the 2014 World Twenty20 but can this marquee cricket clash be regarded as ‘just another match’?
Pakistani jaws drop as Anil Kumble takes his 10th wicket.
Javed Miandad sprints back to the dressing room like a maniac after hitting that last-ball six off Chetan Sharma.
Ravichandran Ashwin’s hands rest on his head as Shahid Afridi ‘mis-hits’ a six over long-on.
Misbah ul Haq sinks to his knees, the two prime ministers clap in the VIP box after India ease into the 2011 World Cup final.
The high, high-fives (courtesy tall Indians) and wide smiles are witnessed as Pakistan are tamed in the 1996 World Cup quarter-finals.
These are just some of the significant chapters in the history of India-Pakistan cricket rivalry.
Relations at government level are dented, nations are divided by history but it’s that same history – together with culture and tradition – that keeps them together. Records and memories are created each time India takes on Pakistan on a cricket field. It adds a new chapter in the nations’ history, one that is scripted by a white ball.
Excitement, from start to end
The matches have explosive starts – Sachin Tendulkar in Durban, Irfan Pathan in Karachi and Saeed Anwar in Chennai. Some shattered stumps are often seen – Shoaib Akhtar at Eden Gardens and Wahab Riaz in Mohali. Rear-guard action by MS Dhoni, turning the game on its head courtesy Ajay Jadeja and asserting one’s authority in the form of Virat Kohli’s 183 becomes the most significant act of the match.
It’s a game of nerves without a doubt, you can’t even sleep for several nights before an India-Pakistan game
The endings have been varied – Misbah’s paddle down leg, Harbhajan Singh’s squat over midwicket in addition to the Miandad heroic and the Afridi magic.
But what an India-Pakistan clash delivers without fail is excitement, anticipation and plenty of nerves – even before the flip of the coin.
“It’s a game of nerves without a doubt, you can’t even sleep for several nights before an India-Pakistan game,” Wahab Riaz, who took five wickets in the 2011 World Cup semi-final against India, told Al Jazeera.
“The pressure is immense, more than a normal game. You want to do well in every match you play – take wickets, hold on to catches, score runs if you’re needed to and basically contribute to your team’s success.
“Against India, you strive extra hard to achieve all that. So you start planning days in advance and although there are nerves floating about, there is also a lot of excitement leading into an India-Pakistan match.”
Riaz was preferred over retiring fast-bowler Shoaib Akhtar for the crunch knockout match as mind prevailed over heart for the team management. Riaz failed to disappoint, on a stage and against opposition where failure is not an option, and was aptly applauded by the Mohali crowd.
Get the crowd in
Getting intimidated by a partisan crowd remains the visiting teams’ worry, especially if its Pakistan on Indian soil, but Riaz knows how to play that to one’s benefit too.
“You need to play with the crowd, not against it. You have to enjoy what they do and if you do that, it helps you relax. It won’t affect your performance one bit. There are so many people out there, you drop a catch or get dismissed, it creates pressure.”
For both sides – and for the tournament – the marquee clash might have come too soon as it takes place on the opening day of the main event. Despite the warm-up matches, there is no time to acclimitise to conditions and opposition in a testing environment.
Pakistan’s Twenty20 captain Mohammad Hafeez, though, is happy with the timing of this match, hoping success early in the tournament – and in such an important match – will bear glad tidings for the remainder of the event.
“You enjoy playing such pressure matches,” Hafeez said. “As a captain I am delighted that the first match is against India and if we do well, the other games will appear easier.”
|The inaugural World Twenty20 in 2007 saw India beat Pakistan in the final [GALLO/GETTY]|
History certainly favours India. Pakistan have won only one of their five Twenty20 matches against their archrivals and have yet to beat them in an ICC World Cup or the World Twenty20s.
India will know, going into the match, that records will not help them on the field, especially after a dismal run-in to the World Twenty20 which has seen them lost to New Zealand away and perform poorly in the Asia Cup.
“We never look at that record and neither do we look at that game as a big one,” Virat Kohli, who stepped in for the injured captain MS Dhoni in the Asia Cup, said.
“It is just hyped up by all the people around it. We will not go out there to keep that record intact. We will go and play good cricket and try not to get too desperate.”
Regardless of the result, it isn’t just the losing side facing the heat. Things get worse for some, including those 66 Kashmiri students who were expelled from their university and briefly threatened with sedition charges after they cheered for Pakistan in the recently concluded Asia Cup.
Just another game, then? It’s nearly time for the anthems.