Dileep Premachandran looks back at five classic matches between India and Pakistan ahead of tomorrow's clash.
India v Pakistan: when national pride is at stake
Sachin Tendulkar could not sleep for nearly a fortnight before the World Cup game in 2003. Inzamam-ul-Haq was so riled by a heckler in Toronto in 1997 that he went into the crowd to confront his tormentor. When Wasim Akram pulled out of the World Cup quarter-final in Bangalore in 1996, and Pakistan went on to lose, the more extreme fans accused him of treason.
The Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees may loathe each other, and there is certainly no love lost between Boca Juniors and River Plate in Buenos Aires. When Liverpool and Manchester United clash, it is to the soundtrack of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Two Tribes. Barcelona against Real Madrid is simply referred to as el clásico. But not one of these sporting rivalries comes close to the intensity that usually accompanies an India-Pakistan cricket match.
With strained diplomatic relations providing the backdrop, the more important games between the two have seen a couple of hundred million fans fret and fume, dance and cry. As much as the players try to downplay it as "just another game", the man on the street sees each match as a test of national honour. Defeat can result in players' houses being stoned, effigies being burned and scapegoats crucified by jingoistic media.
Tomorrow, while the rest of the world tunes in to football from South Africa, millions on either side of the Wagah border will have their eyes on Dambulla in Sri Lanka and the latest episode of the fierce rivalry. The Asia Cup has never really established itself as a major event in the calendar, despite first having been staged as long ago as 1984. These days, with Twenty20 the flavour of choice, one-day cricket is fighting to stay relevant.
Matches in India and England, with the smaller stadiums, tend to be sold out, but other countries are struggling to draw crowds for the 50-over game. There are already fears that next year's World Cup, with four minnows playing at least six matches each, will enjoy only fitful support and the Asia Cup will give some hints as to what the organisers can expect. Pakistan and India have played just once since 2007 - a Younus Khan-led side saw off the India challenge at Centurion last September - and both sides will be desperate to lay down a marker before the big event next spring. Tendulkar's absence takes some of the sheen off the contest, but with the likes of Virender Sehwag and Shoaib Akhtar back in the fray, there is no shortage of game-changers on either side. Come tomorrow night, one side will celebrate and one will be in the depths of depression at losing to their fierce rivals. These are five of the greatest matches between the great rivals.
A fortnight earlier, India had cruised to victory at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, in the World Championship of Cricket final. When Imran Khan scythed through the top order in Sharjah, a measure of retribution was looking on the cards. Mohammad Azharuddin (47) and Kapil Dev (30) apart, India had no answer to the great all-rounder (6-14) and Pakistan were left to score just 126 in 50 overs. The India pacemen made the early inroads before Ravi Shastri and Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, the spinners, wrecked the middle order. With Kapil mopping things the tail, Pakistan were out for 87.
India batted solidly to reach 245, a big score in the days that preceded pinch-hitters. Pakistan's reply was faltering when Abdul Qadir produced a quickfire 34, but once he departed and the innings subsided, it was left to Javed Miandad to keep wafting at embers of hope. It came down to a dramatic final over where wickets fell, a run-out chance was squandered and four runs were needed off the last ball. Miandad was on 110 by then, and when Chetan Sharma's attempt at a yorker became a leg-side full toss, his bat helped it to the boundary for a result that would make Indians wince in pain for years afterwards.
Wasim Akram pulled out on the morning of the game, and Navjot Sidhu's 93 held India's innings together. The difference between a competitive total and an imposing one, though, was Ajay Jadeja, who plundered 45 from 25 balls, targeting the pace of Waqar Younis for special punishment. Pakistan started as though they would finish the game in 40 overs, but when adrenaline got the better of Aamer Sohail, the stand-in captain, the game turned. Venkatesh Prasad and Anil Kumble were the key players as Javed Miandad's 21-year-long World Cup odyssey ended with the bitter taste of defeat at the hands of their arch enemy.
Poor diplomatic relations had meant no cricket contact since 2000, and Centurion in South Africa resembled a corner of the subcontinent for the most eagerly awaited group match of the competition. Saeed Anwar's polished century took Pakistan to the sort of total that usually wins World Cup games, but once Tendulkar smashed Akhtar for 18 in the opening over, the momentum change was palpable. Shoaib did get his man, but by then, Tendulkar had 98 from 75 balls. Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh then sealed the deal with 26 balls to spare for the Indians.
India's first full tour of Pakistan in a generation could not have had a better start. Sehwag's audacious 79 and Dravid's 99 set Pakistan 350 to win. Fabulous knocks from Yousuf Youhana (as he was then) and Inzamam meant Pakistan were right up with the asking rate until the final 10 overs. Inzamam's breathtaking 122 ended when he edged Murali Kartik behind and after a flurry of shots from Abdul Razzaq, it came down to the final ball, but Moin Khan was not able to clear the infield with his shot. The capacity crowd were on their feet regardless of the defeat.