Over the past month or so we have been reminded of a different world, specifically the one from April 1986. The popularity of the show Chernobyl, a reminder of a world filled with state-sponsored lies and a belief in sanctity of the state over its citizens seems to have resonated in 2019.
Yet for the handful of cricket fans that like to play around with stats websites, that month represents another milestone. Eight days prior to the Chernobyl disaster the fate of the India-Pakistan rivalry changed — that was when Javed Miandad hit that six. The story of the Pakistan-India rivalry has two inflection points — that Miandad six and the Sehwag and Tendulkar onslaught sixteen years later. Prior to that Miandad maximum, Pakistan’s record against India in ODIs read: 7 wins, 8 losses.
Over the sixteen years between the two inflection points, Pakistan won more than double the ODIs that India won in the rivalry: 45 to 21. Since then, Pakistan have won 21 and lost 25, including the match in the 2003 World Cup. From parity to domination to a period of statistical parity that’s not really reflected in the state of the two countries – two teams who have tended in the opposite directions over the course of this century culminating in this point when India are competing at the head of the peloton and Pakistan are the stragglers trying to keep up with it.
Yet, through it all there has been one constant. A constant that was once a footnote, before it became a crutch to defend the competitiveness of the rivalry, eventually leading to it becoming a humorous take on the rivalry in 2011 and 2015, to the competing one-upmanship in hate that it seems to have garnered this time around. That constant is Pakistan’s record against India in the World Cup.
There are many ways to look at it – does it say something about the nature of the two sides, about how they deal with pressure? Is it just a statistical anomaly or does it represent something bigger? Or is it a reflection of the importance of the toss (Centurion 2003 is the only match where India won the game chasing rather than defending a score)?
Perhaps the easiest explanation is to break those wins for India down – twice (1992 and 1999) they came up against a Pakistan team going through their mid-tournament slump on the way to the final; twice (1996 and 2011) a Pakistan team missing their pace spearhead failed to deal with the pressure of a knockout game in India, conceding too many before messing up the chase against a team buoyed by their faithful cheering on; and twice (2003 and 2015) Pakistan were beaten by a far superior team.
If that explanation is the one we go to, where we compartmentalise each of those losses, then the match between the two sides at Old Trafford is likely to fall in the last of the categories: India are clearly one of the two elite sides in ODI cricket, Pakistan obviously aren’t even close – and haven’t been so since the turn of the century.
And yet, through it all, these aren’t teams particularly familiar with each other, especially when compared to their predecessors. Shoaib Malik aside, no Pakistani player in the squad has more than 11 ODIs against India. For context, that’s fewer than the number Rao Iftikhar Anjum played against the neighbours. Meanwhile, only three of the Indian team (MS Dhoni, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli) have played more than 10 ODIs against Pakistan — which again, for context, is fewer than the number that Laxmipathy Balaji played against the arch-rivals.
And yet, even with that small sample size, the numbers are glaring for Pakistan – each of the experienced trio for India average north of 44 against Pakistan. Meanwhile, the new look Indian bowling unit has already shown their supremacy against the new age Pakistan team in the Asia Cup. That, and their overall quality is what they will hang their hat on going into this game. For Pakistan, it’s the Champions Trophy final and the consistent belief that their A game can still trouble and conquer the very best in the world. After all, Pakistan have already beaten one of the two elite teams in this tournament, why not the other?
It is a match between a team built upon a systemic revolution, one that has followed the zeitgeist and remained at the head of it; against a team that only now seems to be waking up to the fact that the world has passed them by.
But for one (likely to be rain-soaked) day they are going to enter as equals. After that, it’s anybody’s guess.