14/02/2015 8:42 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST

India vs. Pakistan: A Match Made In Heaven And Hell

An Indian cricket enthusiast gets his face painted in the colours of his national flag at a salon offering special Cricket World Cup-themed hair styling in Mumbai on February 12, 2015. India, the defending champions, will meet arch-rivals Pakistan on February 15. Australia and New Zealand are due to co-host the forthcoming Cricket World Cup event in which 49 matches will be played across 14 venues between February 14-March 29. AFP PHOTO / INDRANIL MUKHERJEE (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

I had always thought that Partition and border issues were the only real bones of contention between India and Pakistan until I saw the highlights of the 1986 Austral-Asia Cup finals, in which Javed Miandad had smashed Chetan Sharma for a last-ball six in Sharjah.

That is when I realised that the emotions hopes, faith and drama attached with the India-Pakistan game are just as powerful as those associated with political machinations and maneuverings.


It is a rivalry that dominates the game of cricket and has its roots in history. The fraught relationship between the nuclear-armed nations and their people is the backdrop to the high drama on the playing field. For some, cricket is just a game but for Indians and Pakistanis, it is serious combat.

When India played Pakistan in the 1999 Cricket World Cup in England, the Kargil War was unfolding far away but its impact could be felt at Old Trafford, Manchester. Emotions ran high. Ramachandra Guha described the situation aptly in his book, A Corner of a Foreign Field: "Cricket contests between India and Pakistan were always steeped in nationalist passion. This was the World Cup, with a war in the background. Manchester was accustomed to scenes of violence produced by a football match. Would it now witness the first cricket riot in England?"

Be it the Miandad's last ball six in 1986, the Misbah scoop catch by Sreesanth in 2007 or Afridi's mishit six off Ashwin in 2014, the clashes between India and Pakistan continue to leave behind a lasting impact , especially in limited-overs' games where the two teams have given fans countless nail-biters. The endings have been varied but what have been constants are the excitement, anticipation and plenty of nerves - even before the toss.

Having fought three major wars and having been pitted several times against each other in cricket's biggest competition - the World Cup - India and Pakistan haven't lost their zeal to bring down the other. It is almost a matter of life or death for the teams. The tension on the field is palpable, and it is not unusual for a verbal missile or two to fly by. And so far India has had an upper hand against Pakistan when it comes to the World Cup , having won all their five games on previous occasions.

Once again, India and Pakistan will lock horns in the 2015 Cricket World Cup, when the arch-rivals will play on 15 February at Adelaide Oval. For both sides and for the tournament, the marquee clash might have come too soon as it takes place on the second day of the main event. Despite the warm-up games, there is no time to adapt to conditions and opposition in a testing environment.

Both the teams go in the tournament without the tag of "favourites" to win the World Cup - both of them enter the fray having recently lost against Australia and New Zealand respectively. There are challenges for both teams. India no longer has the most powerful weapon in its arsenal to take on the men in green, i.e. Sachin Tendulkar. Pakistan is wounded too, with some key bowlers unable to play because of injuries.

As they set to advance into the "battlefield" the players are carrying the hopes of millions of people on their shoulders. If it gives them strength, it also adds enormous pressure. In the meantime, viewers supporting either side can expect their hearts to skip a few beats. The Indo-Pak rivalry guarantees a moment of jubilation for one side and despair for the other. It is this rivalry which has given birth to legends, and ended careers. To see it play out in the field is a match scripted in heaven for cricket lovers, but for the 22 players the battlefield remains hot as hell.

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