This was always going to be the showpiece event of 1996 Cricket World Cup. The knockout clash between political rivals India and Pakistan in a quarter-final had all the makings of a classic. Chasing a target of 288 set by India, Pakistan were off to a flying start, led by their captain Aamer Sohail. After hitting a particularly exquisite drive, Sohail openly lampooned Indian pacer Prasad, pointing to the region with the bat as if to say, "Go, fetch that". Sohail tried to repeat the slash off the next ball and was comprehensively bowled. A charged-up Prasad gave him a send-off and the quiet tension suddenly gave way to an eruption, as the crowd realized that the tide had turned. In the end, India won that match by 39 runs. This was one of the best comebacks from the bowler and also, one of most recollected incident from the long list of memories from India-Pakistan rivalry between the 22 yards of playing strip.
Seen by some as a war, while others see it as a marquee match, the India-Pakistan cricket rivalry is one of the most intense sports rivalries in the world. This emerges from the extensive communal violence that marked the Partition of colonial India in 1947 and the subsequent Kashmir conflict.
The partition of India that led to the creation of independent India and Pakistan was characterized by intense and bloody conflict between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs that affected lives of numerous people. An estimated 10 million people migrated to the nation of their choice. This bloody legacy of the partition and the subsequent emergence of territorial disputes and major wars being fought over them have all added to the growth of intense rivalries in field hockey, association football, kabaddi and especially in cricket, which is most popular sport in both the nations.
This is well reflected in the environment surrounding any Indo-Pak match. Sachin Tendulkar (India), regarded by many as the greatest cricketer of all time, had famously remarked that he started worrying about 2003 World Cup match against Pakistan an year in advance! This statement reflects the kind of tension and pressure experienced by players of both the teams. While they will always try to pass it as 'Just another game..', but deep down, they know the sentiments involved makes the game a national event in both the countries.
What makes these matches even more eventful in the recent times is the fact that all the bilateral ties between the cricket boards of both the nations have been severed owing to the constant political tensions arising from cross-border terrorism. This implies India and Pakistan will only face each other at times of World Cup, Champions Trophy, and Asia Cup. Such tournaments are usually held at a gap of four years, and thus, the frequency of these games have greatly reduced.
Yet, in spite of all the political drama and high-intensity scenarios during the matches, it is a game of cricket that binds the two nations. While there is a great zeal to represent and do well for their respective countries, players from both the nations have constantly shown admiration towards one another. Multiple Pakistani legends have time and again praised the likes of Sachin Tendulkar (India) and Rahul Dravid (India) for their dignity and sportsman spirit, besides calling them ideal role models for any budding cricketer. Many Indian fast bowlers have sought the help of Wasim Akram (Pakistan, one of the greatest bowlers) to refine their techniques. Joint conferences between players from both sides are always friendly and full of energy. They compete hard, but fair.
Cricket had played great role in the diplomacy between the two nations. In 2004, when India toured Pakistan after fifteen year break, thousands of Indian fans got their first glimpse of Pakistani soil when they got special visas to attend the matches. Head of both the nations had joined together to watch the 2011 World Cup semi-final between India and Pakistan.
The incidents from various Indo-Pak matches have become the part of folklore. I shall restrain myself from listing the memoirs from these contests till my next article. Often comic, often ugly incidents from these adrenaline pumping matches deserve the space of their own, but we can safely conclude that when India and Pakistan are playing, cricket has been known to stop the traffic, spike the heart rate and force the students to skip studies even during the exams!
While Brazil-Argentina, Lakers-Celtic or a Federer-Nadal match stirs up the excitement, the cricket's greatest rivalry is known to evoke the emotions and spirits.