Buildups to every India-Pakistan match begin the day it’s announced. In this case it was December 11 last year. Very few could have foreseen it shift from the lap of the Himalayas to City of Joy. Or for that matter, India would come into this match one foot on the exit. The ‘do-or-die’ tag comes easily with any India-Pakistan match. This, for a change, will live up to that tag from India’s perspective.
The circumstances might have ruffled India’s feathers but they have been able to stay ‘relaxed’. On the other hand, Pakistan seemed a more worked up unit after pummeling Bangladesh by 55 runs. The day after bagging their first win, nine Pakistan players showed up at nets. After reaching Kolkata, only Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina and Pawan Negi showed up for India.
R Ashwin gave a typically nonchalant answer. “They’re probably a little more hard-working than us. It was more about relaxing and nothing to do with who we’re playing. We’ve been on the road for last three months,” he said .
“The best thing we can do is to think of ourselves. Generally after a game like that you tend to get nervous, practice and try harder and eventually go into the match a little more tired,” he said.
“Cricket is a psychological game. I find it quite amusing, when people say you will have to keep it simple, it’s not. Unless you’re exceptionally talented you find yourself losing a psychological battle,” said Ashwin.
Apart from Shahid Afridi’s grandstanding, Pakistan’s preparation has been low key. They sweated buckets in the field and only sent coach Waqar Younis to deal with the questions. Is Afridi avoiding the press? “Probably because you ask him tough questions,” Younis said with a hint of smile.
Nevertheless, the air around the Pakistan press conference was lighter. There was no sugar-coated sarcasm. Rather it was all about being positive and seeking to change history at a home away from home. Their spirits have been lifted too after a disappointing Asia Cup. “The monkey is off our back now,” said Younis on the win over Bangladesh here after losing to them in the Asia Cup a few weeks back.
After a long time Pakistan are in a better position going into a match against India. While Ashwin chose to see it as 50-50, Younis made no fuss about exploiting that advantage. “History also changes. If you see, we are confident. This time, a bit more confident. They can go out of the tournament. For the first time India are under more pressure. It’s a big tournament. I’m sure they’re feeling the heat,” he said.
That they are not on the same page about the rivalry too was clear. “This rivalry is huge, it’s hard to say how huge it is. It’s probably bigger than the Ashes,” said Ashwin before saying the obvious. “As far the fans, I don’t think they watch this game as a game of cricket. It’s more of a border rivalry. They want to get one up on each other. For the players, it’s all about keeping their emotions aside and try to play the best they can,” he said.
Younis’s take was completely different. “First , let us take it as sport. Yes we have a rivalry, we have a history, not just culturally but also a cricket history. The last 50 years, it has been a treat to watch for the world. We should all cherish that and feel proud of it,” said Younis.