In the recent years, cricket broadcasters have appeared to be spending their creative resources trying to hype the India vs Pakistan rivalry in absurd ways. That there exists a serious geopolitical conflict between the two countries is no news but the broadcasters would really have to go out of their way to advertise the sporting rivalry between the two countries. We were repeatedly told it is hashtag Greatest Rivalry, but the matches themselves hardly matched that hype.
The limited overs’ head to head tally, especially at the ICC Men’s ODI World Cup, was always in favour of India and so the firecrackers, breaking television sets in the mauka mauka campaigns were all built around that.
But with back-to-back thrilling contests that saw matches go down to the last over between the two sides at the ongoing Asia Cup, the broadcasters will – hopefully – have to struggle a little less for the substance in their promotions for these contests and maybe, the way the two sides play the sport alone will be the driving factor for them.
We have waited so long for a good cricketing contest between these two fiercely proud cricketing nations, and now two have come along in quick succession.
While India defeated Pakistan by 5 wickets in the group stage encounter to carry forward their Asia Cup dominance, Pakistan came back in style in the Super Fours stage on Sunday to defeat India by the same margin.
And so now, this rivalry seems to have strengthened in substance particularly because Pakistan look inspired by their anomalous victories against India in the Champions Trophy 2017 and the T20 World Cup but there is a tendency to dismiss these victories as one-offs. A Fakhar Zaman century in the final at The Oval in 2017 or Shaheen Afridi’s stunning new-ball spell in Dubai last year meant that people could still continue to believe that it simply wasn’t India’s day and that they still weren’t really equals.
Ahead of the Asia Cup, former Pakistan captain Wasim Akram in a chat with Star Sports said that while the Pakistan team has been on the rise for the past couple of years, it was the ruthless 10-wicket win against India at the T20 World Cup that instilled in them the confidence of competing with India day in, day out. Post their performances in Asia Cup that resulted in two absolute thrillers, it seems the statement is validated.
Here’s a brief look at the results between the two sides in the last five years before this Asia Cup:
India vs Pakistan, T20 Asia Cup 2016 - India won by 5 wickets
India vs Pakistan, T20 World Cup 2016 - India won by 6 wickets
India vs Pakistan, Champions Trophy 2017, Group Stage - India won by 124 runs
India vs Pakistan, Champions Trophy 2017, Final - Pakistan won by 180 runs
India vs Pakistan, Asia Cup 2018, Group Stage - India won by 8 wickets
India vs Pakistan, Asia Cup 2018, Super Fours - India won by 9 wickets
India vs Pakistan, ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 - India won by 89 runs
India vs Pakistan, T20 World Cup 2021 - Pakistan won by 10 wickets
Even in the two recent instances that saw Pakistan ‘upset’ India, the matches were one-sided. When matches such as the recent ones in Asia Cup go down the wire and have fans on the edge of their seat even in the last over, a few reasons are: A) they are, in fact, equals, B) the gulf of quality between the two sides is reducing.
India still possesses the star power and experience that is intimidating enough to trouble teams’ pre-planned strategies and execution. They still lead several head-to-head tallies across white-ball cricket in the past few years so they probably are not on the same footing yet. However, it does appear that Pakistan are the closest to India they have been in recent times in the multi-team events their meetings are restricted to now.
In the opening encounter between the two sides last week, Hardik Pandya was India’s hero with both the bat and the ball, as he successfully completed a final over finish.
On Sunday, in Dubai, India’s sensational start at the powerplay that saw Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul score fifty runs in less than five overs and Virat Kohli’s perennial dominance against Pakistan hinted that we were probably up for another one-sided contest.
However, the way the Pakistani spinners Mohammad Nawaz and Shadab Khan arrested the Indian innings in the middle overs ensured a twist in the tale. A calculated chase from Mohammad Rizwan and a brutal cameo from Mohammad Nawaz saw India trail in a way they never really recovered from and there, it was... the veiled sporting rivalry that existed even among the heartwarming dynamic and mutual appreciation between the players of both sides.
The kind of cricket the India-Pakistan contest has offered in the Asia Cup is truly turning out to be a sporting rivalry that is worth your time as a cricket follower, even if you take the convoluted histories between the two nations out of the equation.
Round 1 was taken by India, Round 2 by Pakistan... and if there indeed is a Round 3 – some way away as it maybe – we can be rest assured of one thing, that this match does not need the hyperbolic creative production. This is a cricketing contest, a rivalry on the field, that is living up to it billing and we are here for it.