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India’s Under 19 cricketers know very well how big a game against Pakistan is. Kevin J Larkin for The National
India’s Under 19 cricketers know very well how big a game against Pakistan is. Kevin J Larkin for The National

India-Pakistan U19 Asia Cup tie not just any other game

Players from both sides concede trying to keep expectations down as arch-rivals face each other on Tuesday, reports Paul Radley.

DUBAI // One of the enduring frustrations of modern professional sport, albeit a side issue, is the banal pre- or post-match platitude.

Like the trite “we will take each match as it comes” nonsense. The respective players and coaches of the India and Pakistan Under 19 teams have been trying to trot that one out ahead of their Asia Cup encounter in Dubai on Tuesday.

But it will not wash. India v Pakistan? Just another game? As if.

According to Bharati Arun, the coach of India’s world champion age-group side, his players need to be coaxed into thinking like that if they are going to perform anywhere near their best.

“There is a lot of hype being created,” the coach said. “There is a lot of pressure on the boys from various sources, from their parents, from their friends, from their peers.

“The expectations are pretty high, but we try to keep that down and say it is just another match. We try to tone it down.”

This is the fixture – or the senior team version, at least – on which cricket in this country was founded. Arun knows that well himself, having played for India against Pakistan in Sharjah in 1987.

“The experience was incredible,” he said. “In terms of the crowd, one half was supporting India and the other Pakistan.

“While you are fielding to run to one section and are booed, then run to the other section and are cheered.

“The biggest challenge for any cricketer is to stay even-minded.”

It is coming up on eight years since the senior teams of these two nations last met on the fields of the UAE.

Back in 2006, the Indian board permitted their side to play “offshore” again for the purposes of the grand opening of the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi. It was a one-off and they have not been back since.

Yet it is the one fixture UAE cricket supporters crave. In the 46 international matches since the 25,000 seater stadium was built in Dubai Sports City in 2009, it has been sold out only once.

If India played Pakistan here as regularly as they once used to along the Mohammed bin Zayed Road in Sharjah, though, the ground’s owners would have to build an extension.

Vijay Zol, India’s captain for this tournament, was 11 the last time these nations met here. He is well aware of what this fixture means now, though.

“Playing against Pakistan is a different ball game, that has always been the case,” the left-handed batsman said.

“As a team we will keep the other things out of our minds and just concentrate on doing well in all three departments of the game, batting, bowling and fielding, and treat it as just another game.

“It is the home ground for Pakistan, but we are expecting fans to turn out and support both the teams. That would be great.”

The gravity of Tuesday’s fixture is exacerbated by the fact that the two sides being pitched together are probably the two best in the world at age-group level.

India are the current world champions, while Pakistan are undefeated in 16 matches.

“It is sort of a war between India and Pakistan, but if you keep thinking about this you won’t be able to perform well,” said Azam Khan, the Pakistan coach. “It is very important to keep our youngsters away from this pressure.

“We are here to play good cricket and prepare our players for the national team.

“If you think any one game is particularly important, it will be very difficult to perform. If you keep thinking about the fact you are playing against India, it is going to be very difficult.

“I have told my batsmen they are not playing India, they are playing the ball. For the bowlers, they just have to worry about hitting their targets. That’s it.”

pradley@thenational.ae

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