A rivalry high on sporting magic and marinated in sub-continental history and angst on either side of the Radcliffe Line gets its latest instalment. India against Pakistan is cricket’s emotional roller-coaster and since these matches are now restricted to ICC championships and the Asia Cup, the larger absence of these rousing contests surely makes the heart go fonder.
The Narendra Modi Stadium, earlier referred to as the Motera, is a gargantuan venue which matches the stratospheric hype that Saturday’s World Cup fixture has already generated.
On Friday, roads leading to this massive edifice were clogged as expectant fans and alert security personnel milled around while the harsh sun was the kind that marketed protective skin creams. The blue jersey was flying off the pavements while patriotic slogans and the odd tribute to Virat Kohli provided the interlude.
India steps in as the domineering outfit, especially in ICC matches against its arch-rival. Meanwhile Pakistan strides in with the added confidence of having defeated The Netherlands and Sri Lanka.
India, having got past Australia and Afghanistan, too, has an unblemished record so far in this World Cup. That more than a lakh are expected to turn up and the surround-sound would include cultural performances before the game, gives an impression that the championship’s organisers are doing a belated opening ceremony after having skipped the formality earlier!
This rivalry, with its gun-shot sixes by Javed Miandad, Sachin Tendulkar and Kohli and the bureaucratic unease surrounding it, especially in the tardy issue of visas for journalists and fans, isn’t for the faint-hearted.
The players might downplay the pressure and seek refuge in a shared love for Punjabi pop, but this remains the heavy-duty encounter stretching nerves and threatening nails.
India’s batting is in order, gaining gradual heft. It is the same with Pakistan. The host also got a fillip as Rohit Sharma told the media that ‘Shubman Gill is 99% available’.
The interplay, between rival skippers Rohit and Babar Azam or dogged opponents like Kohli and Mohammad Rizwan, would be interesting, and so would be their tussle against some of the finest speedsters: Jasprit Bumrah and Shaheen Afridi.
The surface with its black-soil base is supposed to nurse a soft corner for batters. And one of the most iconic images from the old Motera was that of Sunil Gavaskar essaying a late-cut off spinner Ijaz Faqih to be the first man to reach 10,000 runs in Tests.
This was in 1987 and since then much water has flowed down the Indus. When the neighbours face off again, people will hold their breath from Rawalpindi to Rameswaram. India against Pakistan, especially in cricket, is always war minus the shooting.
The teams (from):
India: Rohit Sharma (Capt.), K.L. Rahul, Virat Kohli, Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Ishan Kishan, Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur and Kuldeep Yadav.
Pakistan: Babar Azam (Capt.), Shadab Khan, Mohammad Rizwan, Imam-ul-Haq, Abdullah Shafique, Saud Shakeel, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Wasim Jr, Agha Salman, Shaheen Afridi and Osama Mir.
Umpires: Richard Illingworth and Marais Erasmus; Third umpire: Richard Kettleborough; Match referee: Andrew Pycroft.
Match starts at 2 p.m.