India and Pakistan meet on Saturday in the showpiece group-stage event of the 2023 Cricket World Cup, with the 132,000-capacity Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad set to be bursting at the seams.
For their last World Cup meeting in England four years ago, there were over 800,000 applications for tickets made for the Old Trafford clash, a match which was watched globally by 273 million viewers!
While The Ashes – and meetings between England and Australia – certainly bring a fierce rivalry of their own, what sets matches between India and Pakistan apart is the rarity of them.
Owing to political tensions between the two nations – with three wars fought between India and Pakistan since they became independent nations in 1947 – no cricket was played between the two countries between 1962 and 1977, while they currently compete against each other only in Asia Cup tournaments or official ICC events.
The two teams have not met in a Test series for 16 years and in a bilateral ODI or T20 series for 10 years. In fact, as recently as last month’s Asia Cup, India refused to travel to tournament-hosts Pakistan, so hosting duties were ultimately shared with Sri Lanka.
The Pakistan team, meanwhile, are in India for the first time since the 2016 T20 World Cup and it took high-level intervention this week in order for Pakistan journalists and supporters to be allowed to travel into the country.
“It’s our biggest rivalry in the game,” Eoin Morgan told Sky Sports, England’s World Cup-winning captain in 2019. “Only meeting each other in ICC events actually amplifies the magnitude of it.
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“There’s a huge amount of rivalry and history between both sides; it’s not just about what happens on the park.
“India have had bragging rights for a considerable period of time. Both sides have started this tournament well.
“I have no doubt it’s going to be an epic game.”
Who has the upper hand for Saturday?
On the field, the action certainly should be spectacular, with India and Pakistan currently ranked first and second in the world in one-day internationals and both having won their opening two World Cup matches.
Pakistan comfortably saw off the Netherlands and then broke the record for the highest World Cup run-chase, reeling in 345 to defeat Sri Lanka on Tuesday, while India are also two from two after impressive wins over Australia and Afghanistan – the latter display headlined by captain Rohit Sharma’s record-extending seventh World Cup century.
Although head-to-head meetings between the sides are rare, India and Pakistan did meet twice recently at the 2023 Asia Cup, albeit with their opening contest ultimately lost to rain.
India had been dismissed for 266 in 48.5 overs, with Pakistan left-arm seamer Shaheen Afridi taking 4-35 – including bowling Virat Kohli for four – before Ishan Kishan (82 off 81) and Hardik Pandya (87 off 90) helped rescue the innings somewhat before the heavens opened.
The second meeting was far more one-sided, with Kohli becoming the fastest batter to 13,000 ODI runs, closing in on Sachin Tendulkar’s hundreds record in the format in the process, as India thrashed Pakistan by 228 runs on their way to winning the tournament.
Kohli’s 47th century, which propelled India to a monster score of 356-2, leaves him just two tons shy of Tendulkar’s record 49. In reply, spinner Kuldeep Yadav claimed 5-25 as India skittled Pakistan for just 128 – securing their largest-ever ODI win over their rivals.
What about their World Cup history?
Both teams have enjoyed storied successes in the tournament, with India victorious twice (1983 and 2011), and Pakistan triumphant once (1992). However, in terms of head-to-head meetings, it makes for sorry reading from a Pakistan point of view.
India have won all seven of their prior 50-over World Cup meetings, even reigning supreme in 1992 before Imran Khan’s ‘cornered tigers’ turned things around to ultimately beat England in that year’s final.
India’s two World Cup wins were rather contrasting in terms of expectations. They were very much the favourites in 2011 when again given hosting duties and, despite being under such intense scrutiny, they emerged victorious – beating Sri Lanka in the final after having bested Pakistan in the semis.
As for 1983, India did not face Pakistan that year and were very much unfancied for both their semi-final tie with hosts England and the final against two-time reigning champions the West Indies. But, incredibly, Kapil Dev’s inspired outfit successfully defended 183 against the likes of Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Clive Lloyd at Lord’s to lift the trophy for the first time.
Pakistan’s World Cup record against India is atrocious, but they did break their duck of sorts two years ago – albeit in a different format.
Having also failed to win any of their five prior T20 World Cup meetings with India – including losing the 2007 final to them – Pakistan finally registered a win over their great rivals at an ICC World Cup when hammering them by 10 wickets at the 2021 tournament, before normal service was resumed as India won their meeting in 2022.
Who are the star players on show?
Rohit has already stamped his mark on this tournament, continuing his remarkable World Cup record. The India captain now has a record seven centuries in only 19 World Cup outings, while his 131 against Afghanistan was also the fastest World Cup ton by an Indian batter, the opener reaching three figures in just 63 balls.
Kohli is the other standout in the Indian batting line-up and has two half-centuries already to his name from the opening two matches of the tournament. He will be kicking himself, however, that his 85 to help his side over the line from a seemingly-perilous position at 2-3, chasing 200 against Australia, did not become his 48th ODI hundred and move him to within one of Tendulkar’s record.
With the ball, it was India’s spinners that did the damage against Australia, but their pace attack is not to be ignored. Jasprit Bumrah leads from the front and took 4-39 against Afghanistan, and while Mohammed Siraj has yet to really click, he came into the tournament as the world’s No 1-ranked ODI bowler.
Speaking of topping the rankings, Pakistan skipper Babar Azam is currently the world leader in terms of batting in ODI cricket, amassing 5,424 runs in his 110 games to date, albeit just 15 of those have come from the team’s opening two games. However, form is temporary and class is permanent – and this man is one of the classiest around, averaging near 60 in the 50-over format (57.09).
Also, Mohammad Rizwan is in superb form to start the tournament, following up an opening half-century against the Netherlands with a match-winning 131 not out in Pakistan’s record run-chase against Sri Lanka.
Losing Naseem Shah to injury on the eve of the tournament was a bitter blow for Pakistan, but they still have the supreme skills of Shaheen to trouble opposition batters. Averaging 24 with the ball in ODI cricket, the left-arm fast bowler can be unplayable at times, particularly when swinging the new ball early on.
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