In normal knockout matches, the going has been fairly even between India and Pakistan. They’ve played each other 13 times, with Pakistan winning seven times and India six. Those include a set of three finals played in Dhaka in January 1998, the last of which ensured Hrishikesh Kanitkar would forever hold a place in Indian fans’ hearts, regardless of what else he achieved because he hit the winning four in a then-record chase in near darkness.
The first knockout match the two contested was the World Championship of Cricket final in 1985, which ended with Ravi Shastri driving a car on the MCG, an iconic image. That was not an ICC event, though it was the closest thing to it, with seven countries participating.
That final seemed to set the tone for how knockout matches in big events went. India’s all-win record against Pakistan in ICC Cricket World Cups and ICC World T20s is brought out anytime the two face-off, and with the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 opening match win, the record now stands at 2-2 in the one ICC tournament Pakistan had mild boasting rights over. On Sunday, when the two teams meet again in the final at The Oval, either Pakistan will have regained bragging rights, or India would have pulled ahead in the Champions Trophy too.
Form and history are never the most reliable indicators when these two sides meet, but it is remarkable how India has lifted themselves every time it has played against Pakistan in a big knockout match. There have been only three thus far, each one a landmark occasion.
Skill-wise both teams have had equal moments of being superior, but in the big knockout matches, India has always found a way to raise its game. Mickey Arthur thought the Indians were better at handling the pressure because they had had greater exposure.
“I think the difference is exposure. I think exposure to massive pressure situations -- and let's be under no illusion, India are a fantastic cricket team at the moment. They're going in the right direction. They're playing some brilliant cricket. But exposure to high-pressure situations is what India have had above Pakistan,” said Arthur on Saturday. “The PCB has changed that a little bit now with the PSL, which has been a very, very successful competition. I think the more we can expose our guys to those situations, the better results we get out on the ground. I think we can see our style and method catching up with the rest of the world because we're being exposed to it now.”
That however, explains only the domination in more recent years. India has had the better of these contests across generations. While there is no one-size-fits-all explanation for it, India has managed to find ways to mentally insulate itself from the pressure of the contest better than Pakistan has.
Virat Kohli spoke for this generation when he said, “You can't think of those things when you step onto the field. I know there are expectations. I know there are people that expect the team and myself to do well every time that we play, but I understand as a player and as a person that it's not possible. So it's very important to realise the things that might or might not happen in the game, and you have to be close to reality. You have to maintain a balance and then focus on what you need to do on the field.”
In summary, India has managed to do this better than Pakistan in its big do-or-die matches. Here is a look at how each of them went. But as they say with mutual funds, past performances are no guarantee of future returns.
ICC Cricket World Cup 1996 quarter-final, March 9
Wasim Akram pulled out with injury on the morning of the match, and while Waqar Younis picked up his 200th ODI wicket, it is a day he’d like to forget. Sachin Tendulkar had been in imperious touch in the league stages, but he was kept quiet at the start. That didn’t affect India much, with Navjot Singh Sidhu taking up the mantle with a well-made 93. The real fireworks though, were provided by Ajay Jadeja. Never before, or since, has Waqar been treated in such cavalier fashion. Jadeja ended up with 45 not out off 25 balls – a terrific innings in a T20 match today, an unbelievable and unheard of one two decades back. India’s 287 for 8 was a massive score in an era when 220 to 240 was par, but Pakistan’s openers began smashingly. Enter Aamir Sohail’s ego and Venkatesh Prasad’s fired up response in an exchange that would have launched far and wide on social media today, and the wind went out of Pakistan’s chase.
The match contained so much drama that the fact that it was Javed Miandad’s last international appearance went almost unnoticed.
ICC World T20 2007 final, September 24
Yusuf Pathan made his debut and Irfan Pathan was the Player of the Match to make it a rather special day in the Pathan household, but what will remain etched in the memory is the missed Misbah-ul-Haq scoop shot to give India a five-run win in the final over. Gautam Gambhir, showing his penchant for the big knock on the big occasion early, had turbo-charged India with 75 off 54 at the top of the order. But the bowlers fought back, and Yuvraj Singh – who had been India’s talisman in the tournament till then – couldn’t get going in the middle, and India ended with 157 for 5.
Pakistan’s chase was a spurts-and-starts affair, but thanks to Misbah it was in a position to pull it off. The irony of Pakistan being within a hit of the trophy because of Misbah, and missing out on it also due to him was stark. But that was to prove modern cricket’s most significant moment, giving the T20 game the explosive spark required to turn it into the juggernaut it is today, with a vast Indian market awakened to the entertainment possibilities of the game.
ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 semi-final, March 30
The title of the most hyped match in history might be taken over by the impending ICC Champions Trophy Final, but it belonged to this match before that. Never before had India and Pakistan met in an ODI with the stakes so high. India had a spotless ICC Cricket World Cup record at stake, but Pakistan had shown flashes of terrific form in the tournament and had the hubris of an X-factor team that knows it can rise together and crush the opposition.
Maybe the occasion became too big, because Pakistan dropped Tendulkar five times while the batsman made his way to a painstaking 85 to hold the top half of the innings together. It fell to Suresh Raina to pull the bottom half along with an invaluable, unbeaten cameo as India got to 260 for 9. It would need a very good bowling effort to defend that, and that’s exactly what India got. Five bowlers were used, each one picked up two wickets as Pakistan was bowled out for 231 after a solid start.
The result meant India was in the final, where the ICC Cricket World Cup was won after 28 years and the legend of MS Dhoni was forever enshrined.