“Pakistan ka mutlab kyaa? Laa ilaha ila Allah. Naraye Taqbeer, Allah ho Akbar! Pakistan Zindabad”. The typical Pakistani cricket chants got louder as the match progressed. There were a few of us Pakistanis watching the game at a hotel in Bur Dubai, surrounded by Indians in the fall of 2009.

Shoaib Malik was in his usual elements against India and Mohammad Yousuf was showing his class as Pakistan secured a rare victory against India in an ICC hosted competition.

At the time, the score was 4 -1 in India’s favour. India had won all four World Cup games while Pakistan had triumphed in the previous Champions Trophy bout.

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To date, Pakistan has lost seven out of the nine ODIs played against India in ICC held tournaments. India is 6-nil up in World Cup matches, while Pakistan is 2-1 up in ICC Champions Trophy games.

Win the toss. Win the match: the team that has won the toss has won eight out of nine games.

Win the toss. Bat first: seven out of nine times the team that has won the toss have batted first. India asked Pakistan to bat once on a rainy English summer morning and won on Duckworth Lewis method in a game that was reduced to 22 overs.

While Pakistan has gotten the short end of the stick in ICC tournaments against India, overall Pakistan’s ODI numbers look pretty good. Pakistan has won 41% more games against India than India has against Pakistan. The score is 72 – 51 in Pakistan’s favour.

While Pakistan was perhaps a stronger team through the first four decades of ODI cricket, India has been the more dominant team in world cricket in the last seven years. It is the only period in the rivalry where India leads the head to head. However, very little cricket has been played between the two neighbours in the current decade.

The Indian team of the recent past presented an ideal opportunity for India to close the gap with their neighbours. But due to political tensions between the two nations and the stance from the Indian Cricket Board, in particular, denied India this chance to catch up.

While history can be an indicator, the current rankings present a more accurate assessment of where the two teams stand at the moment.

India is ranked number 3 in the top half of the table, and Pakistan lingers right at the bottom at number 8, just under Bangladesh.

Pakistan had to postpone a series to make sure that they could qualify for the ongoing Champions Trophy, while direct qualification for the 2018 World Cup is still under threat.

In these circumstances, India will go in as clear favourites.

However, in a game between India and Pakistan, pressure acts as the great equaliser. The history, the rankings, the numbers, the odds, everything else will seize to matter once the teams set foot on the ground. What will be of utmost importance is how the two young teams handle the burden of over one billion people that will have their eyes on them.

This subcontinent cricket rivalry provides the chance for players to become heroes, and runs the risk of them becoming villains. This mother of all encounters makes them into a Javed Miandad, or turns them into an Aamir Sohail. You become Shahid Afridi overnight or turn into Misbah –ul- Haq forever. Either way, these performances are etched on the minds of those who watch them unfold.

Pakistan will hope that young batting talent Babar Azam will come to the party and raise his hand when it counts most. It will be interesting to see what number he bats at. In a short career, Babar’s batting position has already floated around a bit.

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India has multiple match winners and any of them clicking will make it difficult for Pakistan to compete. Pakistan will have to come out all guns blazing if they are to stand a chance.

The recent record of Edgbaston suggests that the track will be a belter and a run fest is expected to entertain a full house crowd.

The weather during the English summer is always unpredictable and there are showers expected through the weekend in Birmingham. The toss could again be crucial in this regard.

By the time the 2009 India vs Pakistan Champions Trophy game ended, there were only a few people left at the hotel where we saw the game, almost all being Pakistani. My good Indian friends Saif and Hurez, who had invited me, asked what relevance these religious slogans have in a cricket match.

“We are a Muslim country and God is with us”, I said in my own Shoaib Malik moment. My friends reminded me that they were Muslims too and perhaps there were more Muslims in India than in Pakistan, or at least almost as many.

I did not really have an answer to that because they were right and I was being ignorant. But in response, I shouted out, ‘Naraaye Taqbeer’. After all, that is what I grew up chanting and screaming at National Stadium Karachi.

This was the last time Pakistan won a match against India in an ICC tournament.

It was eight years ago.


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