Invariably the word used to describe Pakistan and India.
The Oxford Dictionary describes it as ‘a person’s main opponent’. But Pakistan haven’t been India’s main opponent for a while. Nor are India Pakistan’s.
One team has thrived on the riches and experience that have come along with the Indian Premier League. The other has had to cope with exile in the Middle East desert.
One team sits third in ODIs and is confidently eyeing that number one spot. The other sits eighth and is nervously looking at the team behind them.
One team has won the Champions Trophy twice and is the defending champion. The other has reached the final of the tournament for the first time.
On the surface, arch-rivals seldom seem so mismatched. Yet, dig a bit deeper, and the Pakistan-India cricketing rivalry emerges as not only the biggest game in cricket but also the biggest game in all of sport.
So what constitutes a good rivalry?
The passion and the emotions that run high among players and fans alike; often dangerously close to boiling point? Pakistan-India clashes have that in abundance. Rivalries in other sports, especially football, often turn bloody and violent but part of that is down to the combative nature of the game itself. No other non-contact game ever sees tempers regularly flare the way matches between these two teams do.
What then about the way rivalries tend to transcend sport? A bloody history, escalating political tensions and conflicts across the border mean a Pakistan-India clash, whether you like it or not, becomes more than just a game of cricket. It becomes about honour, it becomes about egos, it becomes about the millions who lost their lives during Partition nearly 70 years ago, it becomes about the constant state of war the two countries have been in since then. It becomes nationalism and patriotism itself.
The number of viewers a rivalry draws must also be taken into account. Nearly 1.5 billion will watch the Pakistan-India game. For context, that is more than twice the population of all of Europe. No rivalry in the world comes close. With an estimated viewership of 650 million, even the biggest game in world football — the clasico between Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona — cannot match those numbers. The only game that can compete is the football World Cup final, but then that is not a rivalry; the viewers tune in due to the enormity of the occasion rather than due to the teams competing.
The history and impact of the rivalry must also be taken into account. Only a few boxing and tennis rivalries can match Pakistan-India in terms of the impact they have had on their sport but due to their individualistic nature, they can only have a small history that inevitably ends when one party retires.
A Pakistan-India fixture alone can generate as much revenue for the International Cricket Council (ICC) as the rest of the tournament put together. The match is so vital to the ICC that it has admitted to putting these two rivals in the same group of every major world event in a bid to ensure at least one Pakistan-India clash.
Then there is the impact on the players. Almost every single Pakistan-India games creates heroes and villains. Moments such as Shoaib Akhtar’s dismissing Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar off consecutive deliveries, Virender Sehwag’s triple-century, THAT Javed Miandad six and THAT Misbahul Haq scoop are just some of the moments that will forever be etched in folklore. What you do in these seven hours can stick with you for the rest of your life and often even after that.
A rivalry is all the more riveting if rivals cancel each other out. Pakistan have always boasted some of the best bowlers around, while India have had the luxury of calling upon some the finest batsman the world has ever seen. Cricket doesn’t reach a higher standard than Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis bowling to Dravid and Tendulkar.
Then there needs to be uncertainty about who has the upper hand in the rivalry. Without that constant and unending debate, a rivalry wilts. Pakistan fans will point to a far superior 72-52 head-to-head record in ODIs as irrefutable proof that they have always dominated India in such clashes. Those who prefer the Blue over the Green would point to India’s 10-0 record over Pakistan in World Cups and World T20s.
Add to this the fact that bilateral games between the two teams have stopped completely, meaning the sense of occasion doubles every time the two proud cricketing nations collide.
Sunday writes the next chapter of the greatest rivalry in all of sport. The world will be watching. All your previous achievements will count for nothing if you fail. Win and all your sins will be washed. The fact that it is a final means the match will create not heroes but legends, not villains but pariahs.
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