Final before the final: India open their T20 World Cup campaign against arch-rivals Pakistan

What is it about the India-Pakistan match that gets everyone to drop everything else and want to watch it? Why will someone fly into Dubai from across the world just to watch a match? Why is the clamour for tickets as crazy as it is? Why, despite the standard of India-Pakistan matches in the recent past bordering on the poor, is this the final before the final? Is it all because of the history that the two teams share?

It is about wanting to beat each other. Instant stardom beckons when you perform in a match like this and the feat is then celebrated for months on end. Sachin Tendulkar’s 98 in Centurion in the 2003 World Cup for example is part of lore and forever will be. And when it is the World Cup, the entire dynamic changes. The build-up starts weeks and months in advance. Despite wanting to switch off, no player is immune to the surround sound. Both Virat Kohli and Babar Azam will tell you it is just another game. Both, we know for certain, aren’t speaking the truth. It is their way to deflect pressure; not to let the occasion get to them.

With 70 per cent of the capacity allowed by the organisers, it will be almost like the India-Pakistan of old. Coming to the two teams, there’s little doubt India starts as the better side with more experience and depth. In Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Kohli, the Indian top three are perhaps the best in the tournament. Against a relatively weaker Pakistan bowling attack, the Indian batting is expected to come good. India delivered in the warm-up games and almost everyone got a good look in. The IPL is sure to help and the middle-order, with Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja, has enough fire to deliver a power finish. It is the bowling that still looks a little underdone with Bhuvneshwar Kumar not looking the best yet and both Ravichandran Ashwin and Rahul Chahar struggling to pick wickets.

That’s what opens the door for Varun Chakravarthy and his mystery spin. For Pakistan, its much the same. Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan and Fakhar Zaman make a very good top order but then there is a degree of over reliance on the captain. The middle order isn’t the best and how they negotiate the middle overs could well decide the match. In bowling, much is expected from the young Shaheen Afridi. While there is no doubt he has the talent, can he take the pressure of the biggest stage is the question to be asked?

Kapil Dev, in Dubai as a commentator, summed it up well. “You all keep saying pressure, pressure, pressure. I say pleasure, pleasure, pleasure. Why do you play the game? You play to enjoy. This is the biggest stage of all and unless you are excited about performing in an India-Pakistan contest, you are missing something. These matches build legacy, something you will always remember and be proud of.

So all I will say is go out there and enjoy the occasion, for you are that rare few who have a chance to do so,” he said when asked what he would have told Kohli and Co. If you love cricket, it is appointment viewing. It is about biting your nails and screaming your lungs off. It is about feeling the pressure when a boundary is hit or a wicket falls. It is India versus Pakistan, the mother of all cricket contests. And finally, it is happening again. The world isn’t that bad anymore.

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