India v Pak T20 World Cup 2022: The perfect amount of spice

India and Pakistan meet this time round after last year’s crushing defeat of India, Pakistan’s first ever World Cup win over India in 13 attempts. This spells good news for both sets of fans.

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India and Pakistan have as storied a history as any two nations, but the tense geopolitical rivalry manifests in a vastly different way on the cricket field. For although the India v Pak contest is more intrinsically linked to the countries’ identities than any other sporting rivalry in the world, the countries’ players and fans are united by a passion and shared history that transcends politics. It means that matches between the two nations epitomise everything that is great about sport – top quality, high-stakes contests, genuine sportsmanship and by some distance the most passionate fans. The latest chapter in their rivalry, to be played in front of a capacity crowd at the MCG on 23 October, promises to be no different.

Given the decline in political relations between the countries over the last decade, India and Pakistan have not played each other in a bilateral series since 2013, and have not played Test cricket against each other since 2007. As a result, the teams now meet exclusively in ICC events and continental tournaments, with administrators ensuring (for self-evident commercial reasons) that the two neighbours are always drawn in the same group. Historically however, India v Pakistan in ICC events has been a very one-sided affair.

In fact, until last year, Pakistan had never beaten India in an ICC World Cup match, from 12 attempts. It was always curious statistic, given Pakistan – even to this day – boasts the greatly superior head-to-head record. But that long-running hoodoo was broken last year when Pakistan crushed India by 10 wickets in the 2021 T20 World Cup.

It’s a result that spells good news for both sides. After all, in a contest that hardly needs any extra spice, India’s streak merely heaped additional, artificial pressure on both sets of players – on Indian players to protect the streak, and on Pakistani players to overturn it. India’s record run always had to come to an end, and now both sets of players should feel at least somewhat released to play more freely, without the nuisance of an additional statistical distraction hanging over their heads.

Last time India and Pakistan played down under, in the 2015 ICC World Cup, India cruised home comfortably by 76 runs under a typically blood-red Adelaide sunset. Those who were in attendance will attest to the fact that second-generation Indian and Pakistani migrants harbour less – if any – animosity to each other than preceding generations. After all, absent ingrained prejudices, and living in truly cosmopolitan, multicultural communities, there is more that unites fans of the two nations than divides them.

But in 2015, so one-sided was the match that the cricket largely became a sedate sideshow, amidst the constant dholis, the spontaneous bhangra and the occasional waft of biryani. At the time, Pakistan was a team in transition, while India was still basking in the twilight of the Dhoni era. The match was all but over halfway through Pakistan’s innings, and were it not for the nations involved, would have been a rather unexciting match.

This summer’s fixture, in front of up to 90,000 fervent fans at the veritable coliseum that is the Melbourne Cricket Ground, promises to be a much closer and more electric spectacle, as both teams demonstrated in two nail-biting encounters in the recently-concluded Asia Cup. Pakistan are a genuine force to be reckoned with in T20 cricket, and in Babar Azam, finally have the answer to India’s Virat Kohli, whose light has faded in recent years. Meanwhile, India are the number one ranked T20 nation, with a new generation of players more expressive and confident than any other.

Put another way: if Adelaide 2015 was an Ed Sheeran concert, Melbourne 2022 will be Metallica.

DID YOU KNOW? Pakistan’s 10-wicket drubbing of India in the 2021 T20 World Cup was the country’s first win over India in any ICC World Cup event. It ended a streak of 12 straight losses – 7 in ODI World Cups, and 5 in T20 World Cups. It also marked the first time India has lost by 10 wickets in the format; and the first time Pakistan has won by that margin.

READ ALSO: T20 World Cup: Over the years

Ritam Mitra
Ritam Mitra
Ritam is an award-winning journalist and lawyer based in Sydney. Ritam writes on domestic and global politics, human rights and social justice, and sport.

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