Cricket is more than a sport in India. It is like a religion. There is nothing bigger than the Indo-Pak rivalry. We play less these days owing to the troubled political climate. So when there is a face-off, not once, but twice, within a fortnight, it is like winning a jackpot two times over. As I go through my memory flip book, I see that my growing up years have been punctuated with unforgettable Indo-Pak matches.
My first live match at Eden Gardens was as a seven year old. I remember how India dominated almost the entire match but with almost 80 runs to win in eight overs, quite safe in the pre T20 era, a certain Saleem Malik went crazy. A small matter of 72 in 36 balls to silence the one lakh motley crowd. It was an even matchup in the mid 80’s till Javed Miandad broke Indian hearts with that last ball six off Chetan Sharma. It didn’t just win the Greens the match but gave them a strong psychological advantage over the next decade or so. There would be many Indo Pak matches on Fridays in Sharjah and the general rule was that Pakistan invariably won.
We toured Pakistan in ‘89- the highlight was a washed out ODI match. Very few remember the result but what still lingers in memory are the four sixes that a certain 16 year old hit against the wily fox Abdul Qadir in one over- what a grand entry it was by the ‘Master Blaster’ Sachin Tendulkar. The Sharjah debacle would continue. Those were the days of home umpires, and very often, they played as the 12th and 13th team members- none more so than the Sharjah Wills Trophy ’91 final when Aaqib Javed would take a 7/37 including a hat-trick of LBW’s- the third dismissal where the umpire gave the batsman out even before the bowler had appealed.
The ‘92 World Cup was the crowning glory for the evergreen Imran Khan as he led Pakistan to the most unlikely World Cup win. But what I remember more is India winning the most important match-up- when the Indian bowlers tightened the screws and Kiran More got under Javed Miandad’s skin so much that he practiced some spot jumps.
Then the subcontinent ’96 World Cup and the quarter final clash at Bangalore. There was a 10th Physics Board Exam in two days but priorities where clear- cricket always won! The Pakistan team had the most fearsome death bowling but a rookie Ajay Jadeja would take a particular liking for Waqar Younis with a savage assault. India would finish on a high but Pakistan would start on the fifth gear too. That’s when Aamir Sohail would get carried away and sledge the bowler. Venky Prasad would make a fitting reply by uprooting the off stump next ball and then give back a few pleasantries, with some interest.
The late 90’s saw the peaking of the rivalry. We even went to a skating and curling club to play cricket- Toronto. Windy and cold, quite like the UK weather, this would be a series to remember for Sourav ‘Dada’ Ganguly as he bagged four consecutive ‘Man of the Match’ awards. This was also when Inzamam ul Haq had a brain-fade and attacked a fan in the stands, unable to take the consistent ‘Aloo Aloo’ taunts. I fondly remember celebrating the 4 am series win with a few crackers and not so fondly remember the scolding I got from my dad for waking everyone up at that God forsaken hour!
The flip book whizzes by- there is that Ijaz Ahmed butchery- a 139 not out in 84 balls at Lahore in a 217 chase. The Rajesh Chauhan six in the last over, and a Hrishikesh Kanitkar four with one ball left to give us the Independence Cup in Bangladesh.
The college years were punctuated with the tragedy that was the Chennai test. Sachin with a questionable back would play a lone hand in a 271 chase with a heroic 136 but would misread a Saqlain ‘doosra’ with the target in view- from 17 runs needed with four wickets in hand, India would go on to lose by 12 runs. Lot of people skipped dinner that day in college. We would however take sweet revenge when Kumble did a Laker with 10/74 at the Kotla. There was also the emergence of the express Shoaib Akhtar in that phase where he would knock off Dravid and Sachin with sheer pace in back to back deliveries. I remember the controversial run out of Sachin in the second innings and how the match was played out to an empty Eden Gardens stadium on the last day when the police kept the crowd away fearing some violence.
How can one forget the ‘03 World Cup clash at the Centurion? Those were the MBA days. The lucky corner in the hostel common room had been booked from days in advance. Classes were bunked to cheer for Team India. Saeed Anwar- the scourge of India- he of the 194 fame, the one who could turn a test from 26/6 with a masterful 188, would go on to hit a century as Pakistan posted 273. Against a fearsome bowling attack, that seemed plenty. Or was it? Sachin was at his murderous best- that upper cut six of Shoaib Akhtar was one for the ages- 98 in 75 balls to set it up for Yuvi and Dravid to finish off a comfortable win. Oh! How we celebrated that victory in style.
Then there would be that ’04 series in Pakistan- when a certain Virender Sehwag– with scant respect for milestones, would reach his triple hundred with a huge six. In the ’06 series, Irfan Pathan would take a first over hat-trick for the only time in test cricket but Pakistan would still go on to win the match.
And then the 2007 T20 World Cup- India would beat Pakistan in a ‘bowl-out’ in the first group match after scores were tied. We would meet in the final again. I still remember how it was raining cats and dogs that day in Kolkata. The match went right down to the wire. The experienced Misbah ul Haq versus a greenhorn Joginder Sharma with 13 needed in the last over. Misbah would almost single handedly win it for Pakistan till the ill-fated scoop would be pouched by Sreesanth, resulting in an India win by a thin margin of five runs. After the disaster that was the ODI World Cup, it was a historic triumph inspired by ‘Captain Cool’ MSD. This would give birth to T20 cricket and IPL which has since transformed cricket.
India had the upper hand in most clashes now. The 2011 World Cup Semifinal at Mohali would be another pivotal clash- Sachin was like a cat with nine lives that day- going on to score a chancy 85 that took us to 260. Our bowlers tightened the screws after that and choked the Pakis as we got a comfortable win. Onwards to Wankhede, where India would go on to win a second World Cup vs. Lanka.
The last few years also signaled the coming of age for young India- Virat Kohli, the ‘master of the chase’ took a particular liking to the Pakistan bowling line up. The most memorable of his knocks was a scarcely believable 183 in a 330 chase in the 2010 Asia Cup. There was also a superb unbeaten half century against a wily Mohammad Amir on a green Eden Gardens top in the 2016 T20 World Cup. In between would be a rare Pakistan win in the ’14 Asia Cup when Afridi squatted a six off Ashwin in the last over with the last pair batting. To match a last over Bhajji six to win one for India at the death.
So it is India vs Pakistan in a final after ages. Statistics indicate that the footfalls in the temples and the mosques will go up. While the crackers will come out on one side of the border, a few television sets will be broken across the LOC. And some corporate will tap this opportunity with another ‘Mauka Mauka’ campaign. May the Blues and Greens play each other more often! May the best team win on Sunday!