A Preview of India v Pakistan, Champions Trophy, Group A, Centurion -- September 25, 2009
For once, India and Pakistan will not be playing on an island. India-Pakistan matches are usually separate events within the main event, oblivious to the larger picture of the tournament, but this game doesn't seem to be the usual matter of life and death. For once, this match, though the first big clash of the Champions Trophy in terms of traditional rivals coming face to face, is more about the cricket.
What's helped is the tight draw in the tournament format. Pakistan, who have been more vocal in setting up the match (Shahid Afridi, Umar Gul and Younis Khan have been quoted on how badly they want to beat India), will know only net run-rate can keep them out of semi-finals if they win this match. India, blighted by injuries to Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan, have a year and a half of good work done in ODIs to defend. A loss in their opening match will leave them needing to beat Australia and possibly run-rate calculations to go their way.
The build-up for this match, though, has been different from the last time the two teams met at the same venue, in the 2003 World Cup. Sachin Tendulkar then lived the match a year in advance. Everywhere he went, he was reminded of the match. He said he couldn't sleep properly for 12 nights leading into the game. March 1 was a day people of two countries lived for. If you had asked Tendulkar of this match six months ago, he would have - rightly - not known of any such fixture. Before March 1, 2003, the teams had not played each other for three years. In last three years now, they have played 17 ODIs, six Tests and two Twenty20s.
Hype or no hype, once the match begins, Centurion - and the rest of world, wherever the match is telecast - will be engrossed. Albeit slowly, the atmosphere will build. It can't be such a bad thing if a cricket match is a cricket match and not a war.
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