It’s inevitable, isn’t it? “Not on our watch! Not today!” Team India cricketers can react in this way if they think about the impossibility of maintaining Pakistan’s dominance in the World Cup for almost three decades.
After suffering regular humiliation, Indian cricket continued to suffer at the hands of Pakistan in the decade of Pakistan0 and beyond, India has not lost to Pakistan in the World Cup format since 1992.
It was a match marked by the rise of Sachin Tendulkar and the fall of Javed Miandad, whose last ball was in Sharjah six years ago, the psychological pendulum went the way of Pakistan. Since then the unique cyclical changes in the sport, the rise of the T20s, the expulsion of Pakistan from bilateral fixtures and the gradual erasure of Pakistani cricket and its cricketers from the Indian mind.
In recent times, there have been very few games to qualify as a rival, let alone a marquee unit. Yet the enduring power of a sports competition built on geopolitical differences seems to be infinite, the money-spinner will ensure whenever they play. What if the new crop of Pakistani cricketers is not a family name in India?
If there has been a stage in recent times where this loss-making rival has found a new finger, it is the T20 World Cup. This tournament, more than any other, was about India-Pakistan. It all started with the sun-soaked Durban and Johannesburg in 2007 when MS Dhoni’s new face stole the era-defined title win from under Pakistan’s nose.
Now, back in the desert, even if alone in Dubai on Sunday, Sepia-thirsty 1980s cricket fans will have the opportunity to witness the magic once and for all.
For the rest, it’s “another game,” because captain Virat Kohli always likes to keep it.
After five T20s and seven 50-over World Cups, India have regained their satisfaction. It is not something that Pakistan has repeatedly broken down. At one time even their sharpest players could create a frenzy for India to play. Even out of touch, Pakistani batsmen can find a way to belt Indian bowlers. The shoe is now on the other foot, through decades of systematic growth in Indian cricket. And, of course, good fielding!
Which brings blessings and dangers for every one of our cricketers, terrible laws of the average. Neville Cardas once wrote how “the average law in any other game doesn’t work so strong, so mysteriously”. India have played cruelly from the average rule so far but their dream game against Pakistan in the World Cup will inevitably end one day.
This may not be the case on Sunday, though: India is a stronger, more experienced team and a stronger favorite. However, in the T20 format, the margins are thin and as Kohli said, only a few balls can determine the match.
The challenge for India is to stop the inevitable one more day. For Babar Azam’s rival team, always in crisis from one crisis to another, this is another chance to avenge the loss off the recent field by showing their cricketing prowess.
It was time for India to take on the best position during the IPL, but Pakistan have won 11 consecutive Twenty20 matches in the UAE since 2001. Three of them against West Indies (2016), Australia and New Zealand (2018) and two against Sri Lanka (2017).
“We have that record because we played very well. Pakistan is strong, you have to play your best against them every time. To make it all work. The atmosphere inside the stadium is different but our mentality is not like that.”
Azam, announcing his XII, said while placing his card on the table, ” Jo Gujar Gaya Uspe Hum Nehi Focus Kar Rahe Hai (We are not relying on what we had) The strength, confidence and power of the day are important. ”
If we forget, Azam adds, almost as the next thought, “means breaking records.”
That may be true, but it is not inevitable.