India v Pakistan: Get ready for the frenzy

By john pye

Captain Virat Kohli enjoys Indias training session at Old Trafford in Manchester.  Photograph: Aijaz Rahi/AP
Captain Virat Kohli enjoys Indias training session at Old Trafford in Manchester. Photograph: Aijaz Rahi/AP

The sport English colonisers introduced to the subcontinent during the Raj, and which both India and Pakistan continued to embrace in the wake of the partition, divides and unites the countries at the same time.

“It’s a marquee event all over the world,” India captain Virat Kohli said last week. “The frenzy around it is a bit intimidating for the guys doing it for the first time, but for us it’s about being professional as always, do the basics right and look to get a result.”

India have won all six times the countries have met at the World Cup, but Pakistan have won more of their one-day internationals overall – 73 to 54 – and caused an upset here two years ago with a victory in the Champions Trophy final against their greatest rivals. India responded by comprehensively winning both head-to-head encounters at last year’s Asia Cup.

Kohli scored a century the last time India beat Pakistan at the World Cup, a game staged far away in the southern Australian city of Adelaide in 2015.

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Today’s venue at Old Trafford in Manchester will be swamped with ex-pats and tourists. The television audience is hyped up to rival the football World Cup final.

Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur said there wouldd be 1.5 billion people watching on TV, and he is urging his players to embrace the occasion.

“It doesn’t get much bigger, more exciting,” he said. “Careers could be defined by moments in the game.”

India, who won their first World Cup title in England in 1983 and their second on home soil in 2011, were the last team to get started at the 2019 edition of the tournament. Kohli’s team opened with wins over South Africa in Southampton and defending champions Australia at the Oval before their game against 2015 finalists New Zealand was washed out at Nottingham.

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That left both India and New Zealand unbeaten heading into the weekend, but both needing a bit of extra time in the practice nets.

It was raining yesterday in Manchester and areas around the covers were saturated. Rain was expected to clear overnight, with mostly dry, breezy conditions today with potential for showers.

Pakistan’s form has been patchy, but they are a team that can rise to the occasion. After losing a lopsided opening game to West Indies, Sarfaraz Ahmed’s team rebounded to beat England, the hosts and 
pre-tournament title favourites.

But they followed that up with a loss to Australia, meaning the game against India takes on even more significance. Pakistan had to share points with Sri Lanka after a group game was washed out, and need to start accumulating quickly to have any chance of finishing in the top four and earning a play-off spot.

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Imam-ul-Haq, who scored a half-century in the loss to Australia, said it is now or never with semi-final spots at stake. “It’s a huge pressure game – obviously Pakistan-India there’s lots of mysteries behind that,” Imam said. “But we want to focus on our strengths. Obviously, it’s great to be part of that Pakistan-India… lots of Pakistan-India fans are going to be there. I’m really excited about it.”

There is always tension around the game, with conflict rhetoric building up on social and mainstream media in recent weeks.

Kohli never attempts to play down the significance of the contest, but he is always at pains to assure fans there’s no animosity between the players. He played a straight bat at a pre-game briefing to every question regarding the extra significance of the contest, saying in Hindi: “Look, I don’t want to say something here that is for [television] ratings.”

Diplomatic relations have been strained over the disputed Kashmir region, and Narendra Modi excluded Pakistan counterpart Imran Khan from a list of regional leaders invited to his swearing-in ceremony as India’s prime minister last month.

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Modi invited then-Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, for his swearing-in ceremony in 2014. But hostility between the two nations, which have fought three wars since winning independence from Britain in 1947, has not eased in the past five years.

Both PMs no doubt will be closely monitoring the cricket, although Imran will have a deeper understanding of what the contest is like. The former star cricketer led Pakistan to its only World Cup title in 1992.