“After that game, I received a call from a top PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) official who told me: ‘Aap Lahore waapas mat aayie. Kahi aur chale jaayein’ (Please don’t return to Lahore; go somewhere else). In response, I told him, ‘Mein Pakistan captain hoon. Lahore nahin aaonga to kaha jaaonga’ (I am the Pakistan captain. If I don’t return to Lahore, where else will I go?)” Akram recalled.
The Sultan of Swing, who missed that high-octane game at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium 27 years ago due to an injury, did well to follow the PCB official’s advice. He quietly flew to London to escape the wrath of his fans.
“It has always been the case of ‘whether or not you win the World Cup, don’t lose to Pakistan,” former India opener Shikhar Dhawan is heard saying about playing in an India-Pakistan game in a World Cup in a video clip uploaded by Star Sports on X (formerly Twitter).
Former Indian pacer Chetan Sharma echoed Dhawan’s sentiments.
“Kuch bhi ho jaaye, Pakistan se match nahin harna chahiye (India must not lose to Pakistan at any cost). Pehle bhi aisa tha, aaj bhi aisa hi hain (It was so in the past, it is so today),” Sharma told Business Standard.
Saturday’s clash in Ahmedabad’s 130,000-plus capacity Narendra Modi Stadium is being billed as a contest of epic proportions.
This is the marquee event where the Cricket World Cup truly bursts to life.
On October 14, expect millions on either side of the political divide to come together to invoke everything they believe in.
At the toss, if you hear captains Rohit Sharma or Babar Azam call the India-Pakistan clash “just another game,” do not believe them.
India have never lost to Pakistan in a 50-over World Cup game. The enviable 7-0 record is something the Indians fans are proud of. But can they make it 8-0?
Over the years, Indian teams have invariably found themselves at the receiving end of talented Pakistani cricketers.
Through the 1970s, there was the bespectacled Zaheer Abbas, a batter known for his coruscating strokeplay, with an insatiable appetite for amassing tall scores.
Such was his consistency that during a game, former India captain Sunil Gavaskar had famously remarked: “Zaheer, ab bas karo.”
In the 1980s and 1990s, Javed Miandad was the Pakistani cricketer every Indian loved to hate. Blessed with dollops of grit and the courage of a street-fighter, Miandad rarely missed an opportunity to needle Indian cricketers.
From hitting a six of the last ball in an ODI in Sharjah to famously mimicking Indian wicket-keeper Kiran More’s style of appealing during a tense 1992 World Cup game in Sydney, Miandad was cricket’s quintessential bad boy.
Such was India’s abhorrence for Miandad that villains of countless Bollywood films in the 1980s were named after him.
Ahead of the World Cup game in Ahmedabad, Shaheen Shah Afridi, the tall left-arm pacer from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, known for his beatific smile and vicious swing, is giving the Indian team and fans sleepless nights.
The contempt Indians had for Miandad, however, has turned into a form of admiration for Afridi.
A lot has to do with how little the two teams play against each other these days.
Since the horrific 2008 Mumbai terror attack, there has been a sharp decline in diplomatic ties between India and Pakistan.
Consequently, these political tensions have seeped into cricket as well, with neither team having travelled to the other country since 2012.
None of the Pakistani players feature in the Indian Premier League (IPL).
The only time we see these two talented teams lock horns is in big-ticket International Cricket Council (ICC) events like the World Cups.
Aaqib Javed, the former Pakistan pacer, believed cricket needs more India-Pakistan games.
“It is the biggest cricketing extravaganza. It will be watched by billions from not just both sides of the border, but across the world. The cricketers from the two countries will be providing entertainment, and bringing smiles on the faces of their fans. That is how it should be. Keep politics aside,” Javed told Business Standard.
Javed, a key member of Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup-winning squad, said, “Playing in front of their home crowd, India start as favourites. The biggest difference between the two teams is Hardik Pandya. He is a great finisher, and a potent seam-bowling all-rounder.”
The outcome of this game will be determined by how both teams handle pressure, and the weight of expectations from their unforgiving fans.
Addressing the media on the eve of the highly-anticipated clash, Pakistan captain Azam offered a tongue-in-cheek response when asked about how he handled pressure. “There is more pressure for match tickets than the match itself,” he quipped.