London: The 'mother of all matches' is back to beef up Sunday on 16 June.
India versus Pakistan in a World Cup clash. Only their fifth meeting since the previous such World Cup meeting, four years ago at Adelaide.
You take a glance at the World Cup scorecard, though, and ask: how does this even qualify as a ‘rivalry’? How does a 6-0 lead, for any team, in any contest, render the match-up a contest at all?
But ask the cricket-crazy subcontinent, and you’ll find that for many, this looming encounter is one they wait for every four years; to some, it is a once-in-four-years highlight to life in itself.
And although that is down, in large doses, to this fandom belonging to two hyper-nationalist states, India-Pakistan tussles at the World Cup haven’t reached their interest-capturing pedestal purely out of jingoistic audiences and ballistic newscasts – for cricketing reasons, and at times more, this ‘battle’ has left memories far more enduring and tales fare more lasting than many a World Cup final, even.
As the world readies itself for chapter seven of this fable, let’s wind the clock back to relive some of the most iconic moments from the six past editions of India versus Pakistan at the ICC World Cup.
The first of many
It seems unthinkable, but as of 3 March 1992, three things had never happened at the World Cup: an India-Pakistan clash, a Sachin Tendulkar half-century, and a Sachin Tendulkar Man-of-the-Match award.
On 4 March 1992, that duck ended.
The dream of an India-Pakistan final to cap the first World Cup in the subcontinent was ended at the last hurdle four years earlier, when England and Australia, respectively, hoodwinked the co-hosts in the 1987 semi-finals.
But at the fifth time of asking, the World Cup finally got its taste of tussle.
It wasn’t a particularly high-quality game of cricket; India’s seemingly middling total of 216/7 proved 43 runs too good at Sydney.
The clash of two of world cricket’s greatest-ever all-rounders landed entirely in the Indian representative’s favour – Kapil Dev smashed 35 off 26 balls and prized two Pakistan wickets for just 30 runs in his 10 overs, while Imran Khan failed to take a wicket or score a run.
The most telling contributor to India’s win, though, would be a then-18-year-old Tendulkar, who compiled an invaluable unbeaten 54 runs, off 62 balls, before dismissing Aamer Sohail – Pakistan’s top-scorer on the day – in a shrewd spell of 10-0-37-1.
Tendulkar would go on to cross 50 on 20 further occasions at the World Cup; he would also collect another seven Man-of-the-Match gongs (both all-time World Cup records).
Miandad, More and a manic moment
#OnThisDay 1992. Javed Miandad got a little annoyed with Kiran More.
In a TV interview, Miandad said "I imitated Kiran More because he kept on appealing as if he was begging for money from the umpire" #Cricket pic.twitter.com/ofJHmuxXEQ
— Saj Sadiq (@Saj_PakPassion) March 4, 2019
Yes, this picture. Pakistan may have lost the 1992 contest to India, but the first ‘defining’ image of the World Cup chapters between the neighbours belongs, undisputedly, to Javed Miandad.
For six years before the March 1992 meeting at the SCG, the ghost of Miandad had towered over Indian cricket (it took much, much longer for India to get over the events of the last ball of the 1986 Austral-Asia Cup final at Sharjah); on this Sydney evening, however, the small-but-scratchy presence of Kiran More got to the demons in Miandad’s head.
If you’re yet to have witnessed it for yourself, do a Google search right away, because the bizarreness of the spectacle can only truly be understood through video, but here’s a brief:
More had been tugging at Miandad’s nerve, by design or not, with a more than healthy dollop of ‘chatter’ and a severe serving of appealing (think peak Kamran Akmal). The umpteenth of these appeals got the Pakistan stalwart to turn around and share a not-very-polite conversation. Miandad pushed the next ball towards mid-off, and having returned to his crease following an attempt at a non-existent single, found More whipping off the bails and bursting into a ‘semi’ appeal.
Miandad had had enough. He proceeded to ape More, providing, inadvertently or not, a moment that belonged more in a circus than on a cricket field.
Ironically, it was his most telling impact on the game; Miandad struggled to 40 off 110 balls as Pakistan failed to meet the pace of their 217-run chase.
Waqar Who? Jadeja meets T20 in ‘96
Before delving into the events of the second World Cup tie between India and Pakistan, remind yourself, repeatedly, that this was 1996. The T20 ‘revolution’ was nearly a decade away; 250 had only just started to become the par total in the 50-over game. 'Death overs' were barely a phenomenon, leave alone its exaggerated position you see today.
And Waqar Younis was one of the best bowlers going around the world, and, arguably, the best exponent of toe-crushing Yorkers.
And this was a World Cup quarter-final. On home soil.
With all that established, dive in.
India appeared to be frittering away a solid platform as they trudged along to 236/6 at the end of 47 overs. Waqar was still to bowl two of those three remaining overs. His eight preceding overs had gone for just 27, while bringing the wicket of Indian captain Mohammad Azharuddin.
Ajay Jadeja, while potentially enterprising, was not at all renowned as any sort of a big-hitter – his career ODI strike rate ended at 69.80; prior to this quarter-final at Bengaluru’s M Chinnaswamy Stadium, that figure had read 60.80.
He faced six Waqar deliveries from that point, getting out off the sixth. The five prior balls had been hit for 23. The best/fastest-in-the-world pacer was smote for 40 off his final two overs.
India, believe it or not even with your T20-tinted vision of the 2010s, shellacked 51 runs off the last three overs to finish with 287/8.
That’s Dre Russ territory. And Dre Russ wasn’t even eight years old then.
Sohail dares, Sohail blinks; Prasad hits
If the end of the Indian innings in the 1996 quarter-final had been ahead of its time, the start of the Pakistan reply was no less.
The left-handed combine of Aamer Sohail and Saeed Anwar tore into India’s new-ball pair of Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad, and Pakistan – rub your eyes even with your T20-tinted vision of the 2010s – were 84 without loss in 10 overs.
Anwar fell to Srinath, but Sohail was still tugging the run-chase along at faster-than-required, and Pakistan reached 109/1 in the 15th over, which was being bowled by Prasad.
The penultimate delivery saw Sohail make room and dispatch Prasad through the off-side as he bowled from around the stumps. Replays picked up how in the follow-up, Sohail had gestured Prasad, with his bat and pointed figure, almost as if to say 'go fetch'.
The very next ball, Prasad did fetch. He fetched Sohail’s stumps, and uprooted them. "The best way he can answer the batsman," Ravi Shastri remarked from the commentary box.
For the second time in as many World Cup games against their arch-rivals, a Pakistan batting great had embarrassed himself with an on-field gesture.
Cricket in times of war
No, literally. Television debates and advertising promos of the present day may wish to convert the spectacle of an India-Pakistan cricket game into 'war minus shooting', but it really isn’t.
However, 20 years ago, one such Indo-Pak match did take place while the countries were engaged in war – not the media-driven 'war' that tends to play out at 'primetime' every other evening, but actual war, one that claimed the lives of 900 soldiers (according to army figures from both nations).
Can you even imagine the thought today?
We are at the end of a decade where each of the three India-Pakistan World Cup clashes have seen a vociferous clamour for a boycott, by politicians and ex-cricketers alike, over an unresolved diplomatic shambles between the two nations; in 1999, in England too, 22 players had put real destruction and devastation back in their respective countries aside to do the job they set out to – represent their country in the sport of cricket.
On the field, India quite comfortably defended 227, with Prasad picking up 5/27 to continue his affinity towards World Cup games against this opponent – in the process making a mockery of Pakistan skipper Wasim Akram’s pre-match claims that this game was a glorified 'net session' for his team.
2003: When cricket paved the way for peace
The 2003 World Cup encounter between India and Pakistan, their fourth meeting at the biggest stage, falls under the 'classics' category for cricketing reasons that will be detailed further below. But this game was an important moment in the fractious history of the two neighbouring countries.
The fallout of Kargil 1999 had meant that India and Pakistan – teams that used to lock horns at least once almost every year in the ‘90s – had virtually stopped facing each other.
When the teams strode at Centurion on 1 March 2003, it had been over 30 months since the last India-Pakistan clash across formats; the two nations seemed headed towards the path of non-agreement that has peaked over the ongoing decade.
Which is why, deviating slightly from the cricket, one moment from the immediate lead-up to the game holds great resonance, perhaps far more today than it did at the time.
The two camps, aided by an idea from tournament director Ali Bacher, decided to shake hands before the game – it wasn’t otherwise part of the game as it is today – as part of a larger message of peace.
While the two events weren’t directly linked, it isn’t purely coincidental that Indo-Pak cricket ties resumed – and were carried forward in the warmest manner – over the next five years, with India even making their first full tour of Pakistan within a year of this World Cup meeting.
A knockout blow headlined by an Upper Cut
There were 13 boundaries that flew off the famous MRF blade wielded by Sachin Tendulkar during his majestic 75-ball 98 in that Centurion battle of 2003, and most Indian fans will remember most of them even today.
But if there’s one shot that will be recollected for generations to come, one shot that will be a framed moment for as long as India and Pakistan exist, it is that upper cut for six off Shoaib Akhtar.
This individual match-up – the world’s best batsman fronting up to the world’s fastest bowler – had been billed up from the moment the fixture was announced, months prior to the World Cup.
Pakistan had posted 273, which meant India needed to better their previous-best successful chase in World Cups by 52 runs, against a bowling attack that read Wasim Akram-Waqar Younis-Shoaib Akhtar.
In three successive deliveries from Akhtar’s first over, Tendulkar declared who was boss. An exquisite flick and a ‘God’ drive followed the opening act – but nothing tops ‘that’ six. Nothing will.
The one that never happened
A strange entry on this list, in that this one remains 'iconic' out of its non-occurrence – but then again, 2007 was a strange World Cup, wasn’t it?
Even before the shambles of the unending tournament, and the farce of its eventual finish, there was the ICC’s mystifying decision to ‘decide’ Super Eight games even before the World Cup commenced.
Teams were given seedings ahead of the competition, which began with a group stage that saw 16 teams split in four. These seedings would carry forward to the next round, irrespective of the team’s actual finish; in the event of a ‘lower’ seed from the group progressing, they would take the spot of the team they eliminated. (Confusing? Yes, thank ICC.)
This was done, ostensibly, to allow fans to book Super Eight matches in advance before making the trip to the Caribbean. 15 April 2007, it was known months before the World Cup, would be the iconic India-Pakistan face-off, at Bridgetown, Barbados.
When the fateful day arrived, the crowd was, indeed, a sea of blue and green, with Indian and Pakistani flags visible wherever the eye looked. So, good thinking then, on the ICC’s part?
Just that the match was played between Bangladesh and Ireland, with India and Pakistan having been knocked out of the competition a full 20 days earlier.
Surely, if you’re of either Indian or Pakistani leaning, you don’t want to read any more. Not like you’ve forgotten any of it. Or ever will!
2011: The Master’s Many Lives
Tendulkar had a taste for these World Cup bouts against the arch-rivals – in five appearances, he crossed 50 thrice, and was Man-of-the-Match on each of those three occasions.
But the last of those, where he scored 85 in India’s victory in a seismic 2011 semi-final at Mohali to move all that closer to the Holy Grail, was perhaps one of his scratchiest performances ever.
Tendulkar was on 23 when he was trapped in front of the stumps by Saeed Ajmal to be adjudged leg-before, only for DRS to come to his rescue (controversially, if you were to buy Ajmal’s post-match claims).
He was on 27 when he offered a straight-forward catch to mid-wicket, only for Misbah-ul-Haq to drop it.
He was on 45 when he drove one straight to cover, only for Younis Khan to shell a sitter.
He was on 61 when Kamran Akmal failed to pouch a sharper chance behind the stumps.
He was on 81 when Kamran’s brother Umar allowed a regulation take to pop out of his hands at mid-wicket.
Yes, Pakistan dropped Tendulkar four times in a World Cup semi-final.
It’s the ugliest 85 Tendulkar ever scored in his career; if Pakistan’s hands weren’t as greasy, Tendulkar may never have met the zenith he did three nights later at the Wankhede Stadium.
Kohli announces himself at Adelaide, 2015
Virat Kohli was part of that 2011 World Cup-winning squad, and even began that tournament with a hundred on World Cup debut in the opener against Bangladesh. But his most remembered contribution from the campaign was his statement in the immediate moments after the final: "Tendulkar has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years; it was time we carried him."
For most of that journey to the title, Kohli, the youngest member and newest entrant in the team, had lived among shadows; in the semi-final against Pakistan, he had ambled to a 21-ball 9.
By the time 2015 came along, there was no Tendulkar, and Kohli had well and truly begun his march towards the mantle of world’s best. In the months ahead of the World Cup, he had even taken over the reins of Test-match captaincy.
Now, in India’s World Cup opener, at Adelaide – a ground where he hit hundreds in both innings in his first Test as captain two months previously – came his shot at making his first World Cup statement with the bat.
It was an opportune moment. India, generally speaking, were streets ahead of Pakistan in the 50-over game, and never likelier to extend their proud unbeaten streak at the World Cup; still, it was a World Cup game against Pakistan, coming on the back of two winless months Down Under across formats.
Kohli rose to the occasion and made the defining contribution of a contest India won with considerable ease. His 107, off 126 balls, may not have been his first World Cup century, but it gave him his first Man-of-the-Match award at the biggest stage.
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Both teams made a lot of tactical blunders throughout the 40 overs, so much so that towards the climax, it seemed both were trying their best to lose. But in the end, Punjab had the last laugh by chasing down 172 on the final ball of the match.
Players like Gayle and de Villiers represent the fast-fading soul of T20 cricket - the flashes of genius, the parody of patience, the ripping of rulebooks, the measured mayhem. They might never be as functional as the Kohlis and Rahuls, but their batting is born from the intoxicating marriage of dominance and dysfunction.
The Indian team was initially supposed to land in Brisbane but the Queensland state health authorities did not relax their 14-day quarantine rule to allow Virat Kohli and Co to train during that period.