Lack of form, injury worries, poor run of results notwithstanding, an India-Pakistan battle on a cricket field remains one of the most anticipated events of the game world over.
And there is always enough background drama to add spice to an already hot broth.
Pakistan players are kept away from the Indian Premier League, promises of the two sides facing off every year are forgotten, India refuse to play bilateral series at a neutral venue, the Pakistan Cricket Board stays neutral in the Board of Control for Cricket’s push to play a leading role at the International Cricket Council — the differences keep growing and with them the anticipation off the field increases.
Players though look at it differently. The Indians decided to play it normal on Saturday.
The Men in Blue decided against training on the eve of the high-octane game just like they had before their game against Sri Lanka, which they lost. And there was no customary pre-match briefing either. Only Cheteshwar Pujara and Varun Aaron underwent some light practice at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium, where the Asia Cup action will now shift from Fatullah.
It was surprising because with India returning to the recently acquired habit of losing against Sri Lanka, they are in need of a game worthy of their world champion status on Sunday.
Rohit Sharma’s form at the top and that of every other batsman apart from Kohli should be a worry India. While the spinners hinted at a return to form, the pacers seem unable to stop the runs at the death. Finally, if these issues weren’t enough, the Men in Blue dropped catches like hot bricks.
Pakistan’s preparation was another story. The defending champions arrived early in the morning for an intense session. Even the day after their victory over Afghanistan on Thursday was not left unutilized, looking like they mean business.
Pakistan great Zaheer Abbas, now the chief cricket consultant with the Pakistan Cricket Board, walked up for the press briefing. It was at the ground and not in the conference room, as if the heat of the impending clash would melt the room away.
"Of course, there will be pressure," he said. "When the two of the biggest teams in Asia play, everyone watches. The people of Pakistan want Pakistan to win and the Indians would want them to. The pressure comes from the country," he stated in a matter of fact way.
"Everyone will play to win. The rivalry will always remain. The team that bats the 50 overs and plays it more sensibly will win."
Win will remain imperative for either side to stay in hunt for a final berth. With both India and Pakistan having conceded defeats to Sri Lanka and won against Bangladesh and Afghanistan respectively, a loss could issue marching orders for the fallen side. When the two teams met at Mirpur in the 2012 Asia Cup, it happened to be Sachin Tendulkar’s final ODI. Virat Kohli’s 183 while chasing murdered Pakistan, but India crashed out as the neighbours clinched the title.
At Edgbaston in June 2013, India’s progression eventually meant Pakistan’s ouster from the Champions Trophy. March 2014 is different. A lot is riding on the encounter. The two teams do not meet often, when they finally do, it will be to stay alive in the Asia Cup. While the two teams approach this clash in contrasting styles, the unbridled passion and raw emotion of the rivalry will mean victory remains the bare minimum demand on the field.