India vs Pakistan: Why Sarfraz Ahmed and Co would be fearful of the Men in Blue in Champions Trophy final

The fear in Pakistan is that despite a brilliant turnaround in the Champions Trophy, they have run into their nemesis. Inspite of the apparent bravado, chants of mauka-mauka, desire to turn into Davids against the Indian Goliaths, the average Pakistani knows in his heart that their team would have been better off playing some other team in the final.

India and Pakistan players greet each other after India's win the group stage. AFP

India and Pakistan players greet each other after India's win the group stage. AFP

The Pakistani mindset was summed up in an editorial in the Dawn. "The India spectre still looms large in the final. Despite the brilliant win over England, despite Sarfraz’s (Ahmed) dynamic leadership and despite the performance of Fakhar (Zaman) and Hasan (Ali), Pakistan will be wary of the arch-rivals who have enjoyed a clear edge in recent contests.

"Analysts have attributed this to psychological factors, with the Pakistan side finding it hard to keep their nerve, and losing focus. One hopes that this equation is altered on Sunday," the newspaper wrote.

It is hard to disagree.

The best chance Pakistan had of taking on India in the final of an ICC event was in a game that never happened. Since then, every ICC event has, for Pakistan, a poignant reminder of the final that never was. And of RD Burman and Kishore Kumar.

The year was 1987. The Cricket World Cup had left its Mecca, Lord's, and had come to the Indian subcontinent. India and Pakistan, the co-hosts, set destined for an encounter in the final, before Steve Waugh and Graham Gooch struck, knocking both the teams out in the semis.

India had made their way quietly to the semi-finals before being swept away by Gooch at Bombay's Wankhede Stadium. Pakistan were more rambunctious in the journey to the semi-final against Australia.

During every match, convinced that Imran Khan would lead them to their first World Cup, the Pakistani girls sang Burman's 'Aa Dekhe Zara' to a loud, zestful chorus. In many ways, Burman and Kishore's song was the 'Sachin-Sachin' of that World Cup for Pakistan.

However, the two teams, like star-crossed lovers, did not meet in the finals at the Eden Gardens. Allan Border went back with the trophy Pakistan and India had thought was theirs to win. Since then, 'Aa Dekhe Zara' has not been heard on any Pakistani ground.

Pakistan were arguably the better side during that period. Just a few months before the World Cup, they had returned from a successful tour of India, beating the hosts both in 50-over games and the Test series, whose finale was the riveting last, and considered by many as the best, innings of the great Sunil Gavaskar on a turning track in Bangalore.

Pakistan were used to beating India regularly back then, especially, for some strange reasons, in Sharjah, where every game India played against the neighbours on a Friday invariably ended in a loss for almost a decade.

When Pakistan were at the apogee of their game, and India were a little vulnerable — the dark, unpredictable days of Mohammad Azharuddin and the era of match-fixing — the two sides never met in an ICC event's final.

The balance perhaps tilted in India's favour, ironically, at another World Cup co-hosted by the two countries. In 1996, when India and Pakistan played in the quarter-final of the World Cup, Ajay Jadeja's destruction of Waqar Younis forced many Pakistani fans to begin their prayers. But even that did not help as India went on to win the encounter.

Though it looks a little late in the day, Pakistan finally have their chance. The mother of all sporting contests is upon us, ironically, on Father's Day. For the first time in the history of cricket, India and Pakistan will play in the final of an ICC 50-over tournament on Sunday.

So, why do Pakistan start as the underdogs, the team under a lot of pressure to perform?

An India-Pakistan clash, especially a final, is not just a game. It is war minus shooting. Years of pent-up emotions, accumulated grudges, bottled anger, envy and rivalry are played out on a 22-yard pitch, making a cricket final a reflection of the charged emotions and mindsets of the people of the two neighbours.

Over the years, India has moved away from the frenzy that used to grip the nation before a crunch game with Pakistan. One of the reasons, of course, is that India have beaten Pakistan in seven consecutive ICC games. The two teams have so far met 15 times in ICC tournaments.

India have won 13 of these games. So, winning has become a habit for India and, thus, every time the Men in Blue take on Pakistan, the pressure on them is less to win. Indian fans also know that their side has been vastly superior to Pakistan at ICC events and a stray loss here or there doesn't change the balance of power.

Also, India is a much more confident and self-assured country than Pakistan. The feeling among the current generation of Indians is that India has left Pakistan too far behind on social, political and economic indicators. So, treating Pakistan as an equal, a worthy adversary, now sounds a little demeaning. India would rather compete and beat Australia or South Africa than worry too much about Pakistan in a cricket contest.

But, Pakistan has remained stuck in its unrequited desire to be seen as India's rival. Its obsession with beating India has only grown with repeated defeats at ICC events and the decline in the overall fortunes of their team. Once the cynosure of all eyes because of formidable stars like Imran, Wasim Akram, Javed Miandad and Shahid Afridi, Pakistan's team have now turned into a squad whose players arouse neither fear, nor envy; if at all they attract a bit of pity and sympathy for being the underdogs in a game dominated by Indian giants.

Pakistan's ineffective rage is usually evident both before and after important ICC games. The mass mourning that has now become a ritual after every loss, breaking of TV sets after every failure and the sour-grapes comments of visiting captains — Afridi called Indians bad hosts after the rousing reception at Mohali in 2011 — shows how much Pakistan invests emotionally in every encounter and how it struggles to deal with the aftermath.

Considering the contrasting journeys of the two teams and the two countries, there may be a time soon when India-Pakistan cricket contests would no longer remain extensions of the egos of the two countries. They would, like in hockey, become routine affairs that would not arouse mass hysteria and Pakistan, perhaps, would be able to cope with the situation much better in the absence of hype and hysteria.

But, till such time Pakistan continues to burn with the desire of beating its neighbour in the final of an ICC event — and India revels in self-belief and the confidence of being the superior side regardless of the outcome — the pressure would always be more on the erstwhile giants.

Updated Date: Jun 16, 2017 17:50 PM

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