History always magnifies India versus Pakistan encounters. Statistics become anecdotes, wickets become trophies, and runs cement a player in memory. Player match-ups become narratives, and any past slights, however slight, are resurrected. Head-to heads are flaunted like the result of the match, especially if you are India in World Cups.
All this is notably missing in the lead up to the second semi-final of the Under-19 World Cup this year though. History matters less for an Under-19 competition, where teams change drastically every two years. For India, this batch is the first after the BCCI decreed that no player shall play more than one Under-19 World Cup, so none of them have played Pakistan in the previous edition. In fact, the two teams have not played each other at all over the past two years.
Missing each other:
There have been two Asia Cups since the last Under-19 World Cup, but India and Pakistan have not met in either of them. In 2016, Pakistan failed to qualify for the semi-finals, whereas in 2017, it was India who failed to make it past the group stage.
For India coach Rahul Dravid, this was yet another reason to look forward to Tuesday’s encounter. “Under-19 cricket is all about experiences, about giving them different learning environments,” he said. “Last couple of years we haven’t had a chance to play Pakistan at any level, so it’s really nice that it has panned out the way it has. Irrespective of the result, at least the guys would get to feel what it is to play an India-Pakistan game. Maybe somewhere along the line they will grow up as men and become cricketers who play for India, and some of the Pakistani boys will play for Pakistan, they would have done it before.”
Pakistan captain Hasan Khan put more focus on his team’s preparation. “For all of us it is our first India-Pakistan match, but we want to take it like a normal game and correct the mistakes we have made in the previous matches.”
Breaking tradition, the Indian team go into the semi-final with a fast bowling attack that has been the envy of other teams. Ishan Porel’s return from injury in the last game is a boost, especially as Kamlesh Nagarkoti has looked more effective bowling one-change. Nagarkoti and fellow paceman Shivam Mavi were the biggest winners from among this team in the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction that got over on Sunday. They went for Rs 3.2 crore and Rs 3 crore respectively to the Kolkata Knight Riders, along with five other players found franchises. A handful of players were unsold though, and Dravid stressed that this imbalance had not been swept under the carpet. “We’ve addressed it. I don’t think it’s that much of an issue,” he said. “The boys are pretty much mature. It gets more exciting for people around them, that’s what we have to shield them from.”
Mystery of history:
Though history counts for little, Pakistan can draw from the fact that the Under-19 World Cup is the only ICC tournament where Pakistan hold the edge over India in head-to-head. Pakistan have won five of the eight encounters so far. “We have seen records about that, and the boys are really excited to improve the record, so hopefully we can do that,” said Khan. They will be hoping that their fast bolwers, Shaheen Afridi and Muhammed Musa can continue the strong show they have put up in the tournament so far. Afridi is the second-highest wicket taker in the tournament.
The atmosphere in Christchurch is anticlimactically sedate though, much like the character of the city. Coupled with the fact that the IPL auction played out over the weekend, the build-up to this game has been low key.
The two teams had short, sharp sessions outside Hagley Oval. India’s captain Prithvi Shaw chose not to bat in the nets, but others like Shubman Gill and even the bowlers like Mavi had extended sessions. The match will be played on the same pitch where Australia beat Afghanistan on Monday, so the spinners from both teams will certainly come into the game.
India will certainly start as favourites, but Pakistan have a point to prove. Having lost twice to up and coming Afghanistan in the Asia Cup, besides a third time in this tournament, their position among Asian nations is suddenly under a cloud. Nothing like a statement against the biggest fish in the pond to make a dent in history.
The author is a former India cricketer, and now a freelance journalist and broadcaster. She hosts the YouTube Channel, Cricket With Snehal, and tweets @SnehalPradhan.