An India-Pakistan match comes preloaded hype. Geographical proximity, past and present political situations, and a fierce on-field rivalry all combine to make it a fixture like no other.
India’s record against Pakistan in senior World Cup events – winning every head-to-head encounter in both the ODI and T20I World Cups – is still brought up ahead of every encounter between the side. Pakistan recently got one back, beating India in the Final of the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy. This is a dance that goes a long way back.
On Tuesday (30 January), the sides clash again. Things are a bit different this time though. It’s a Semi-Final clash in the 2018 ICC Under 19 Cricket World Cup, but as much as the hype attracts eyeballs, both sides are refusing to get drawn into the hullabaloo. India and Pakistan have not clashed in an U19 ODI in almost four years – their last clash came in the 2014 ICC U19 CWC – and none of the players who will contest the Semi-Final will have ever played against each other before. Simply put, for them it doesn’t come with any baggage – they are kids, playing a game of cricket.
They know it is supposed to be a special match – the talk surrounding the match is unavoidable – but this is their first experience of the rivalry. And, rightly, they are taking it as just another game.
“Our preparation and our planning doesn’t change at all,” said Rahul Dravid, the India legend and U19 coach. “We don’t approach this game any differently from how we would any other game, we still approach it to play good cricket, try and execute our skills and hopefully the result will fall our way. But from an experience perspective, I’m excited about it, the fact that, irrespective of the results, we get our Under 19 boys to understand what it’s like to play an India Pakistan game. At this level, all it is about is about experiences.”
Dravid, of course, knows all about facing Pakistan. He has seen and done it all during his legendary 16-year career as India’s batting rock. The rivalry, or the hype surrounding it rather, only gets worse when the stakes are higher, and he believes the U19 World Cup is as good a time as any for the players to get a taste of it.
“We talk about this level and Under 19 cricket being about learning and experiences and experiencing different things, whether it’s conditions, whether it’s playing in an ICC tournament,” he said. “It’s great that we’ve been able to, in a way, set up to have an India-Pakistan game as well. There is a different buzz about it in the sense that we know that the game is followed probably a little bit more closely than some of the other games we have. For the last couple of years, we haven’t played Pakistan at this level, so it’s really nice for our boys to have that experience of actually playing against Pakistan.”
Dravid can’t help looking back at his own experiences playing Pakistan though – there were fond memories, and despite what the hype sometimes portrays, there were good friendships across the border.
“Every game was important, but it’s just that you knew it was one of the most followed games in the world,” explained Dravid. “For people it meant a lot more. As players, it doesn’t really change things, it doesn’t change how you practice and prepare. From my perspective, I really enjoyed playing Pakistan, they had a really good team in my time and had some great cricketers. It was always a privilege to play against them. We got on quite well with a lot of the Pakistani boys. It was always great to play them, we won sometimes, we lost sometimes, but we always came away with great experiences.”
As far as the Semi-Final is concerned, Dravid expects Pakistan to give his boys a tough time in the middle, their bowlers in particular.
“They bowled very well in this tournament, there strength is their bowling and they’ve shown that,” he said. “We’ve batted well in this tournament so it’s going to be a good contest and we’re looking forward to it, looking forward to competing against a good bowling attack. I thought the Bangladeshi attack was really disciplined, Australia had a couple of decent quicks, so we’ve played some good bowlers in this tournament. But we do recognise that this Pakistani bowling attack is a good one, we respect that, and hopefully we’ll be well prepared and we’ll execute our skills well tomorrow.”
How the latest clash goes remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain – both sets of players will come away with their experiences enhanced, irrespective of the result.