This has been the best of times and the worst of times. This tale of two cricket-crazy countries over the last nine months has been a roller-coaster ride.
From humiliating defeats to Bangladesh and Ireland leading to first-round exits in the World Cup, the non-renewal of a contract with one controversial coach, the death of his counterpart under unnatural circumstances, the burning of effigies, the changing of skippers… this year so far has seen it all. Even that one September evening when they stood face to face to battle it out for the inaugural T20 World Championship title.
India was sated; Pakistan, a shade disappointed. That hunger still burns in Malik's men underneath the "past is past" cliché. So the first of five one-day games, beginning here on Monday, takes on an interesting significance. Especially given their performances last month against the world no 1 and 2.
<b1>While Malik's boys ran South Africa close before gifting them the series, Dhoni's bunch have, hopefully, been hardened following a 2-4 series defeat to Australia.
Both teams were criticised for their fielding and India's running between the wickets was ordinary. But individual efforts stood out on both sides of the Wagah Border.
While Mohammed Yousuf's ton in the second ODI in Lahore glittered in the South Africa series, Yuvraj Singh's 115-ball 121, even though the match was lost in Hyderabad, was outstanding. Pakistan have had the likes of Younis Khan and the skipper himself contributing consistently in the middle-order and India have found Robin Uthappa in excellent touch, even an answer to Shahid Afridi.
If medium-pacer Rao Iftikhar Anjum's three-wicket haul thrice in five matches helped Pakistan bridge the gap left by an injured Mohammed Asif to a certain extent, comeback-man Murali Kartik's six in the seventh ODI in Mumbai has given India a perfect complement to Harbhajan Singh.
Pakistan's T20-find, left-arm medium-pacer Sohail Tanvir, who made his one-day debut in the opening match against South Africa, has not bowled badly either. But while Tanvir's inclusion is dependent on whether Pakistan choose to play a second spinner in Abdur Rehman other than Afridi, Kartik may have to sit out.
One department troubling Pakistan is their opening pair. Salman Butt's 83 in the warm-up game against Delhi, will have them hoping that has been sorted out. Butt has the uncanny knack of scoring big against India with all three of his ODI tons coming against them.
As for India, Ganguly and Tendulkar have been joined by Gambhir and Sehwag. So there is a problem of plenty for Dhoni. There is a toss up between Gambhir and Sehwag in the XI, but given the circumstances that led to Sehwag's inclusion, the Indian think tank might go with the former vice-captain for a psychological edge.