Sport becomes incidental whenever India and Pakistan meet to play a game of cricket. With the weight of history behind them, each encounter between the two neighbouring nations sprouts a bagful of narratives, one more riveting than the other. The on-field competitiveness becomes an extension of the rivalry off it. Asia Cup, the only tournament in recent past— apart from World Cups and World T20s — to pit these arch-rivals against each other thus assumes added significance.
As the two nations who have fought three wars between them, lock horns in the T20 event in Mirpur on Saturday, here's a look at their Asia Cup duels over the years, albeit in 50-over formats. The fiery neighbours do not have much history in T20s (they have played six T20Is out of which India have lost one, tied one and won four including the historic 2007 ICC World T20 final).
Their Asia Cup ODI contests, though, have gone down as classics. From magnificent centuries to vicious bowling spells, many players have scripted heroic performances. We have chosen some Asia Cup clashes to refresh your memory as you wait for Saturday's big encounter.
Asia Cup 2014: Pakistan won by 1 wicket
This was a painful one for Indian fans; 'boom boom Shahid Afridi's pyrotechnics aren't easy to forget. It was the sixth game of the tournament and the Mirpur crowd was treated to a nail-biter as the men in green got better of the men in blue.
Half-centuries from Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayadu and Ravindra Jadeja took India to a respectable total of 245 after Virat Kohli, leading India in the absence of MS Dhoni, had departed for just five. Sayeed Ajmal had picked up three wickets on a spin-friendly track.
In reply, Pakistan openers Sharjeel Khan and Ahmed Shehzad started out strong and put up a 71-run stand. Indian spinners replied in kind and Ravichandran Ashwin and Amit Mishra sent them packing. Mohammad Hafeez's 75 off 117 stabilised Pakistan's innings before he succumbed to Ashwin. In came Shahid Afridi letting loose his familiar fireworks. He hit three sixes and two fours on his way to a 18-ball 34, taking Pakistan beyond the finishing line with just two balls to spare.
Asia Cup 2012: India won by 6 wickets
Some fans might have forgotten this one, but one man will never forget this particular win — Virat Kohli. On this day, the right-hand batsman made his highest ODI score of 183. That wasn't the only century on that day though.
Mohammad Hafeez and Nasir Jamshed got tons of their own and put up a 224-run opening stand for Pakistan, which, aided by Younis Khan's half-century, powered Pakistan to a huge total of 329. But the Indians were not intimidated. Kohli unleashed a strokeful masterclass, slamming his way to a record-breaking 183 off 148 balls. He hit 22 fours and a six. Sachin Tendulkar's 52 and Rohit Sharma's 68 helped India in the historic run-chase — the tenth highest ever in ODIs.
Considering the man's recent form and this record-run chase, Pakistan will be wary of Kohli when he comes out to bat on Saturday.
Asia Cup 2010: India won by 3 wickets
This match will be remembered for Harbhajan Singh and how he guided India home in a thriller with his bat.
Salman Butt and Kamran Akmal's half-centuries had helped Pakistan post 267. In reply, Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni hit half-centuries as well, taking India almost there. But not quite.
It was Raina and Bhajji who put up a seventh-wicket stand of 43 runs in 4.1 overs at the run-rate of 10.32. This included Bhajji's two sixes, one against Shoaib Akhtar and one against Mohammad Amir, in the 47th and 50th over, respectively. Bhajji can turn it up when needed and he is in the back Indian squad again. Though it seem unlikely that he will take the field on Saturday ahead of Jadeja and Ashwin, but he remains a great entertainer.
Asia Cup 2008, Pakistan won by 8 wickets
Another successful run-chase. But who's complaining? Run-chases, successful or otherwise, are fun. India, batting first, posted a formidable target of 309. It was team effort by Indian batsmen — Gambhir scored 35, Virender Sehwag 49, Yuvraj Singh 37, Dhoni 76, Rohit Sharma 58 and Irfan Pathan 38. A solid collective performance.
But sometimes individual brilliance can eclipse team effort. Younis proved again why he's regarded as one of Pakistan's greatest cricketers. He came in after a good start from Pakistani openers Salman Butt and Nasir Jamshed. From there on, it was his show. His brilliant century, 123 off 117 balls, was the spine of a s successful chase. Skipper Misbah-ul-Haq's 70 off 62 balls contributed to the 144-run partnership which lasted for 20.2 overs. The daunting total didn't seem daunting at all and Pakistan had their victory with 27 balls to spare.