Sunil Gavaskar column: India v Pakistan — cricket’s most compelling rivalry

Arch-rivals India and Pakistan now meet only at the ICC and Asia Cup events and because these matches take place after a fair gap, every such contest evokes unbelievable interest.

Can’t get bigger than this: It is always a full house for an India-Pakistan cricket encounter, in any tournament, and in any part of the world.

Can’t get bigger than this: It is always a full house for an India-Pakistan cricket encounter, in any tournament, and in any part of the world. | Photo Credit: AFP

Arch-rivals India and Pakistan now meet only at the ICC and Asia Cup events and because these matches take place after a fair gap, every such contest evokes unbelievable interest.

It was an awesome experience to see a full house at the MCG for the India vs Pakistan match. In fact, for almost three days before the match was played, the streets of Melbourne were awash with Indian and Pakistani supporters — many of whom had flown from across the world to watch the clash. The two teams now meet only at the ICC and Asia Cup events and because these matches take place after a fair gap, every such contest evokes unbelievable interest. Fans of both countries stop you in the streets or shops or restaurants and want you to predict the result. The hotels where the teams stay are swamped with cricket lovers wanting photos, videos or autographs from their favourite players.

And what a game they got to see. A last-ball finish by which time many fans would have chewed their nails off. This is what you expect from the arch-rivals where no quarter is given and none asked for. Nerves are such a huge factor and those who hold theirs generally end up trumps. India held theirs and so were able to cross the line against a fierce opposition. When it came down to the last two balls of the chase with two required to win, the mind went back to the end of the Pakistan innings when Bhuvneshwar Kumar had a shy at the stumps at the bowler’s end when there was no real chance of a run-out and conceded an overthrow run.

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An experienced man like him also got pressured by the big game and conceded what could have been the difference between winning and losing. Not that results are decided by one ball for there were other areas earlier where India could have avoided giving the extra 10 or 15 runs and restricted Pakistan to around 145. Bhuvneshwar had bowled a superb opening spell where he had the Pakistani batsmen feeling for deliveries but unable to get a bat on them. Rohit Sharma did the smart thing bowling three out of his four overs when the ball was swinging and seaming. Then he gave him the final over of the innings where Bhuvi once again over-bowled a yorker and conceded a six. On these big boundaries it’s better to bowl the hard length ball as those are far more difficult to hit than the full toss which even a lower-order batsman can smash.

Arshdeep was superb with the way he varied his swing and catching Muhammad Rizwan and Asif Ali by surprise with the bouncers. Those bouncers were not only quick but well directed, again debunking the theory that Pakistanis play pace better than the Indians.

Hardik Pandya continues his march towards greatness by his performances in match after match. It can safely be said that in the last 15 months the boy has become a man. The way he bowled and then the way he batted and held the innings together alongside Virat Kohli with a century plus partnership when India were struggling at 31 for four again showed the maturity that has come into his game. He bids fair to be the captain of the Indian team sooner than later.

India will be looking at the composition of their batting especially against a strong bowling attack like South Africa where they may want to go in with another batsman to avoid another 31 for four like situation. With Pandya now bowling his full quota of overs they could have the confidence of going in with him as the fifth bowler and playing the extra batsman.

Well begun is half done is an old saying and having started by beating a strong team like Pakistan, India have given themselves a great chance of going all the way.

Happy, healthy and peaceful Diwali to you all.

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