India vs Pakistan: The mother of all rivalries set for another gripping chapter

A Sunday evening blockbuster awaits for Indian and Pakistani fans from around the world as the two teams face off in the T20 World Cup Group 2 clash in Dubai.

India & Pakistan would mostly play at neutral venues, from Colombo to Toronto, from Sharjah to Dhaka. Bilateral cricket exchanges were infrequent. So, there would be heightened tension and expectations. (File photo)   -  GETTY IMAGES

India versus Pakistan. A spectacle or a nightmare? Depends on which side you are on. A cricket contest or a war? The biggest money spinner in the world of cricket, it is an encounter which tests a player’s mental toughness and tactical skills. Also, it can transform an individual into a national hero if he scripts a victory for his nation. The losers do prepare for a backlash.

“Do you need all this?” asks former Pakistan wicketkeeper Rashid Latif.”Of course, you can do without this,” responds former India off-spinner Rajesh Chauhan. They met each other for the first time at Sharjah in the Pepsi Austral-Asia Cup in 1994. Chauhan picked up the first three wickets - Saeed Anwar, Aamer Sohail and Inzamam-ul-Haq.

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India and Pakistan would mostly play at neutral venues, from Colombo to Toronto, from Sharjah to Dhaka. Bilateral cricket exchanges were infrequent. So, there would be heightened tension and expectations. Defeat was unacceptable to fans on either side of the border. Both sides have suffered houses of players being stoned and in some cases fans have let their fury on television sets at home.

Latif observes there are various factors responsible for such furious reactions from the fans. “Lack of cricket understanding. I think education of cricket is largely missing among the fans. There are millions of cricket pundits with little knowledge of the game. You can’t treat a match as war. Also I feel education plays an important role. If you watch the match in the company of a cricketer you would accept the winner with dignity. You would understand the cricketing reasons that create the result. We can’t look at each other as enemies.”

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Chauhan dismisses the build-up to any India-Pakistan match as “needless” jingoism. “I agree you are under tremendous pressure when playing against Pakistan. Fans look at cricketers as soldiers on the field. The expectations are unreasonably high from the fans and the media. Are you trying to tell me the players don’t understand the significance of a win in an India-Pakistan match. `We have to win’ is the war cry. The followers take the result to heart but how can your hero become a villain overnight? The pressure can impact your performance. It can hurt you also because when you put in an extra effort you snap and lose the way.”

For Latif, a match against India was no different. “Trust me, I was different. Never got perturbed. The first ten overs would be tense for everyone. It can happen in any match against any team. We would keep our emotions in check. Sometimes you would be impacted. The Bangalore match (1996 World Cup) was one such game. The tension was too much and the pressure got to both the teams. It was the biggest match on the planet. In fact, every India-Pakistan match is such a crowd-puller.”


Chauhan recalls the Sharjah encounter. “I was facing issues regarding my bowling action. I had played Pakistan earlier as an India `A’ member. There was pressure to perform but I just looked to give my best. Initially it was tough but I settled down (took three wickets). I was aware of the pressure that a match against Pakistan brings but it was fine with me. I enjoyed playing against Pakistan because it brought out the best for each player. The pressure to perform creates a lot of pressure. The Inzamam incident in Toronto (when he charged into the stands with a bat) was a result of that tension. He allowed the pressure to get to him.” The same Inzamam, in 2004, invited the Indian team to his home for a lavish dinner in Multan.

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India and Pakistan have had some epic encounters from the time they first played a Test series in 1952. “Times have changed. The role of the players have changed. I know on field they have to behave well. Believe me, there are rare cases of players carrying the issues off the field. Mistakes are made but you can’t allow them to be repeated and linger. We have to understand that an India-Pakistan match generates great trade. Much of this pre-match hype is driven by people who have commercial interests, like the official broadcasters and news channels. They have much to gain financially. Hence the hype,” insists Latif.

Chauhan adds, “I can tell you that the good players forget the pressure once they get into the thick of action. You have to play your natural game. Yes, you may look to enhance your capacity because you know the awards for the show would be huge and life-changing. I experienced it twice and it was an exhilarating experience.’

The first time, Chauhan swung the game India’s way at Karachi in 1997. “Saba (Karim) and Robin (Singh) had set up a match-winning stand. I was padded up and was only listening to Sachin (Tendulkar) and Ajay (Jadeja) guiding me on how to tackle the challenge at the crease. I had to walk in to face Waqar (Younis) in the penultimate over. `Watch out for the yorker’ Ajay warned me. I managed a single and it was down to ten runs off the over (by Saqlain Mushgtaq). Off-spinner versus off-spinner. I was ready for the doosra but he slipped in a yorker. I stepped out and swung. It went for a six and the pressure was eased. It was a six to mid wicket, off a full toss, and I was reminded of that Javed Miandad six.I gave the strike back to Robin because I wanted him to make the winning hit.”

What was the reaction? “Normal. No one took to hooting their players. The players did feel bad, Saqlain in particular, but such things happen. Can’t be the end of the world,” notes Chauhan.

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Latif remembers many classic encounters from his time when Pakistan won many a good contest. “We had such terrific match-winners and it was a great time for Pakistan. They were a different set of players. Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Zaheer Abbas, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis for us. India has had such awesome players like Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Mohammed Azharuddin, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble. They had mutual respect for each other’s talent. They were pillars of world cricket. Sadly, maturity is missing in today’s cricketers. I have loved playing against India.”

Chauhan has fond memories of his trips to Pakistan. “We have enjoyed some fine relationships with Pakistan players. Some of us have remained friends. We talk a lot when we meet. Of course there are limitations in certain quarters for all. We don’t take a defeat to heart. I remember visiting a village in Pakistan (in1997) and getting some pathani suits stitched to my liking. I still have those suits. I remember a party where I met Pakistani citizens from three generations. They all had different stories and views to share. Nothing acrimonious. It was a memorable evening. Yes, I found Rashid Latif competitive but he never crossed the line.”

For Latif, trips to India were emotional. “I have roots in Uttar Pradesh. Visiting Sultanpur was great. My last trip was in 2005 when we came for a veteran series. I remember visiting Pune, Kochi, Hyderabad, Lucknow. We entered India through the Wagah border and travelled by bus. Nice memories. Jadeja visited Pakistan a few years back as a media expert and won many friends. His views were much appreciated.”

As India and Pakistan prepare for the ICC World T20 match at Dubai on October 24, Latif and Chauhan have a request to fans from either side of the border. “Treat it as a cricket match. It is  not war.”

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