On the 15th of Feb 2015, India and Pakistan will lock horns again in a World Cup match. Had the match been scheduled a day before – that is, on Valentine’s Day – it would have been poetic but inappropriate.
This is not, has never been, and will never be a sweetheart encounter.
An India-Pakistan cricket match is about grit, gore and glory, but mercifully on a cricket field instead of the border.
The beauty of sports is that it doesn’t matter in the larger scheme of things, but is approached as if it does.
Cricket fanatics on both sides of the border – myself included – would be outraged by this assertion.
How could an India-Pakistan match not matter? That too in the World Cup? No, no, no. This is an event of earth-shattering proportions.
One tends to remember exactly what one did on that day, what meal they ate and where they watched the match.
1992 — Studying Cricket, watching Physics
I will forever remember the 1992 encounter at the SCG.
I was due to appear for my Maharashtra State Board exams the next day. My entire academic future was at stake. It felt like a minor inconvenience.
What mattered more was that this seemed to be a do-or-die encounter; both teams had started poorly and it was assumed (incorrectly, as it turned out) that whoever lost the match would have no chance to lift the Cup.
India batted first and posted a paltry total of 216, that too thanks to a late onslaught by a young Sachin and an ageing Kapil Dev. Pakistan’s pussyfooted batting cost them the game. Miandad, especially, was agonisingly slow and the only entertainment he provided was to mimic More’s animated behaviour behind the stumps.
Once India took the 10th wicket, I returned to my boring physics book.
And when Pakistan lifted the World Cup, I – and a million other Indians – rationalised our envy by claiming to have defeated the world champions!
1996 — Hell hath no fury like Venkatesh Prasad...
The 1996 encounter at the Chinnaswamy stadium took the rivalry to a new level. Man of the Match Sidhu’s gritty innings provided substance to the Indian innings, but it was a rare display of batsmanship from Ajay Jadeja that led to a formidable total.
Aamir Sohail and Saeed Anwar – both at the peak of their powers – opened the Pakistan innings with calculated fury. The Indian bowlers seemed clueless. After hitting yet another boundary, Sohail beckoned Venkatesh Prasad and pointed to the cover boundary, as if to say: that’s where your deliveries belong.
My friends and I had christened Prasad the “fastest spinner in the world” and I confess to watching the next ball like it was a horror movie – from between a gap in my fingers.
To my astonishment, the ball swung in and took the top of Aamir’s off stump. Out came the f-word from the usually composed Prasad.
Pakistan never recovered from this setback and India had won its second WC game in a row against Pakistan.
I was on the verge of becoming an engineer. All was well with the world.
1999 — Hell again hath no fury like Venkatesh Prasad...
I slept through the first innings of the 1999 match at Old Trafford.
I was in San Jose, California, and by the time I awoke, Pakistan’s incredible bowling lineup had restricted India to a below-par score.
Since I could be summoned to work 24/7 via a pager, I could not accompany my friends to a theatre in downtown San Jose that was screening the match. But my friends left a message on my pager every time a Pakistani wicket fell.
Yet again, the chief wrecker turned out to be Prasad.
India were 3-0 in WC matches.
2003 — That Sachin innings
I was back in India in 2003, no longer a day-toiler. So I watched the action at Centurion from the first ball to the last.
Pakistan’s score of 273 seemed eminently defendable, given their prowess with the ball. And then it happened.
First, Sachin upper-cut Shoaib and then Sehwag did the same to Waqar.
My cousin, who was watching the match on a gigantic screen at the Marina Beach in Chennai, called me and screamed: “Did you see that! Did you see that?”
What fewer people remember, unfortunately, is the stolid rearguard action by Dravid and Yuvraj that sealed the match in India’s favour.
4-0 and looking pretty good.
2011 — And finally, 5-0!
2007 was a washout for both teams, and they met again in Mohali in the semifinals of the 2011 WC. Never before were the stakes so high in an India-Pakistan match.
I landed in Mumbai on a professional assignment around the time they were tossing the coin. I paid a princely sum to get to Bombay Central and checked into a seedy hotel. Not caring about bedbugs, food or traffic noise, all I wanted was to be left alone in a room with a television set.
By the time I switched it on, Sehwag was batting on a fast track. But the standout innings belonged to Sachin. He was dropped five times, not to mention a botched stumping attempt and the third umpire declaring him not out to an LBW appeal.
The most important innings Sachin played, also turned out to be his most unconvincing. He scored 85 – enough, as it turned out in the final reckoning.
Credit for this victory must also go to India’s ageing speedsters – Zaheer, Munaf, Nehra – who somehow mustered enough energy and skill to see India through.
5-0 in World Cup history in India’s favour. Who would've THUNK it?
What’s on the horizon?
If the skies remain clear over the Adelaide Oval on February 15, there will be a full-fledged match and history will not matter on that day.
Since the Mohali encounter, both teams have won three matches each. And if this one happens to be a contest between Indian batsmen and Pakistani bowlers, I fancy Pakistan’s chances on Australian wickets (even though they are now comparatively docile).
Why? Well, the Indian squad look hapless at the moment.
Dhoni has never been more listless, and Indians will be hoping that the enormity of the occasion will re-galvanise him and the team. What makes the occasion more nuanced is evidence that some bowlers seem to perform better under the current vice-captain.
On the Pakistani side, Misbah and Afridi will want to have a last hurrah. They will go for broke and both these players are exceptional on their day.
If I were part of the Pakistani think-tank, I would play Yasir Shah – he could well emerge as the unknown ace in the pack since Indian batsmen can no longer claim to play spin well.
On the eastern side of the border, people will be hoping that the law of averages does not mess up a perfect record – at least not yet.
But friends, I’m talking to “sense” a Pakistani victory this time around. I concur. Of course, given the tournament format, it is theoretically possible for the two teams to meet again in the semis or the finals – assuming that they put up astronomically better performances than form suggests.
But let’s not go there yet.
Come February 15th, there will be an India-Pakistan match. And by Jove, there will be shouting!