An India-Pakistan contest that puts the Ashes in the shade

“No cricketing contest can ever match the thrill and excitement of what a Pakistan versus India contest offers.”
Published July 6, 2015

As the cricket world prepares for another potentially absorbing Ashes series, there has been plenty of talk about the pressure and drama that is associated with an Australia-England Test battle.

For the rivals teams, at stake is not just a series. Failure is magnified, careers are derailed and champions are defined. The impact of this match-up has extended well into the players' private lives, the battle, in some cases, continuing even after they have walked away from the game.

Now consider something even more intriguing and much more significant a cricket contest than this; a contest which is perhaps the epitome of George Orwell's “war minus the shooting” definition of competitive sport.

It would have been interesting to note Orwell's reaction when Pakistan undertook its 1999 tour of India for the first series between the two sides after a gap of nine years.

There was added tension in the air. It wasn't the usual anxiousness that surrounds a Pakistan-India battle. It came in the backdrop of a government-to-government thawing of sorts but the visiting side were threatened with dire consequences by extremists should they land in India.

Vandalism had forced the first Test match from Delhi to Chennai, thousands of police and military personnel were deployed and even snake charmers were roped in as Pakistan eventually made the trip after some hesitation.

A BBC team followed the Pakistani team's every move, often gaining access into settings which revealed the very human side of a professional athlete.


The rivalry — What it means

Pakistan's then team manager Shahryar Khan

“The rivalry between us is a fact of life, but there is something bigger involved here.”

Pakistan pace bowler Waqar Younis

“The rivalry between India and Pakistan is more important than the Ashes,”

-American journalist covering the 1999 series

“So this is like nuclear war with bat and ball?'”

Pakistan's wicketkeeper on the tour Moin Khan

“It is totally different against India. The pressure is so much higher.”

Indian radio commentator Suresh Saraiya

“Losing is the biggest crime either side can ever commit.”

Pakistan's coach on the 1999 tour Javed Miandad

“No cricketing contest can ever match the thrill and excitement of what a Pakistan versus India contest offers. It is the mother of all matches.”

India's opening bowler during the series Javagal Srinath

“While you do try your best to keep emotions under check when you play Pakistan, it is not always possible to do so.”

India batting legend Sachin Tendulkar

“This is why I played cricket, to be out in the middle for my team, on the world's biggest cricketing stage, against India's arch-rival.”

Cricket writers Richard Heller and Peter Oborne

“It is intimately bound up with the history of both countries and their sense of national identity.”

Sambit Bal, Editor-in-chief Cricinfo

Every once in a while, there are moments in sport that transcend the action on the field and yet help establish the very essence of sport by carrying it beyond the confines of nationalism, and indeed victory and defeat. By all standards the first Test of the 1998-99 series between India and Pakistan was going to be remembered as a classic even without the final touch.