For all the talk of it being cricket’s greatest rivalry, India and Pakistan have only met each other a paltry six times in the last three years. Apart from a brief three match One Day International tour by Pakistan in 2013, all the other encounters have been in multi-nation tournaments. It is a telling example of one of cricket’s most high-profile rivalries becoming a victim of the strained relations between the two neighbours.
Thankfully, to whet the appetite, India and Pakistan will be meeting each other at least twice in the near future. Both of these meetings will come in multi-nation tournaments again – on Saturday, India and Pakistan will meet in Dhaka in the Asia Cup with the two teams scheduled to meet again in the World Twenty20 in Dharamsala on March 19. That is, if the encounter in Dharamsala actually happens as planned – there are already murmurs in Himachal Pradesh with calls for the venue to be shifted.
India start favourites
This limited recent history makes it difficult to provide a sweeping analysis but the last few times the two teams have met on the cricket field, India have overwhelmingly come out on top. It may have had something to do with the form both team have showed in the recent past – while India have had the luxury of calling on world-class players like Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Rohit Sharma, Pakistan, in contrast, have witnessed turmoil. Under captain Misbah-ul-Haq, they have excelled in Test match cricket but in the shorter formats, have more often than not succumbed to dispiriting losses.
Hence, India after posting a confident win against Bangladesh in their opening match will start as comfortable favourites against their arch-rivals on Saturday. With a settled batting and bowling line up, India stand as a complete contrast to Pakistan, right down to the two teams’ respective captains. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s unflappable nature gives India an advantage in the slam-bang world of Twenty20 cricket, while Pakistan’s captain Shahid Afridi’s performances are a good indicator of his team's form, brilliant one day, sub-standard on most other.
The return of the prodigal Amir
On days when Pakistan do click into gear though, there is no better team to watch. Perhaps no other team has a more mouth-watering bowling lineup – Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Sami. It will be Amir though on whom all eyes will rest. The 23-year old left arm pace bowler, who is making a comeback to Pakistani colours after serving a ban for spot-fixing, is a bit of an unknown quantity for India. He has only played two ODIs against India, one in 2009 and one in 2010.
But the other factor in an India-Pakistan match which differentiates it from a conventional cricketing clash is the accompanying off-field pressure. The recent air of hyper-nationalism that has pervaded both countries recently will provide an additional burden on the players. Often prone to jingoism, cricketing fans of both countries do not readily welcome losses by their respective teams in these high-profile games – Chetan Sharma stands out as a prime example. The former medium pace bowler became the first Indian to take a hat-trick in ODI cricket in the 1987 World Cup but is remembered by Indian cricket fans for a more infamous reason. Sharma delivered a last-ball full toss to Pakistani great Javed Miandad in the final of the Austral-Asia Cup in 1986. Miandad swatted it away for six to clinch a famous win for Pakistan.
It will, in the end, boil down to which team can deal with the added pressure that an India-Pakistan clash brings. And in that respect, Pakistan, by virtue of being the under-dogs and having less to lose may feel a little more emboldened to finally put one over MS Dhoni’s men.