Virat Kohli will have history on his side when India take on rivals Pakistan in a World Cup blockbuster on Sunday—a clash that is always more than just a game of cricket.
India cut off bilateral cricket ties with its neighbor after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, with authorities blaming Pakistani militants. Pakistan toured India in 2012/13 for a series of one-day internationals and Twenty20 matches but they have not faced each other outside of a multi-nation tournament since. Tensions between the two countries soared earlier this year and some Indian fans and ex-players called for India to boycott the match at Old Trafford.
In February a suicide bombing in India-Occupied Kashmir claimed by a militant group based in Pakistan killed 40 Indian troops. India and Pakistan then carried out tit-for-tat airstrikes.
On the pitch, India have won all six of their meetings against their neighbors in World Cups as they look to maintain their perfect record in Manchester. India also beat Pakistan in their most recent encounter at the Asia Cup in the United Arab Emirates last year.
But at least Pakistan can look back for inspiration to the final of the 2017 Champions Trophy in England, when they thumped their fierce rivals by 180 runs. “May there be peace and tranquility while the two Asian giants fight it out on the cricket field,” former India captain Bishan Singh Bedi told AFP. “And may the better team win without losing out on the etiquette of cricket.”
Kohli’s side have lived up to their billing as one of the favorites along with holders Australia and hosts England, with two wins and a washout in three matches so far. The number-two ranked side won their opener against South Africa and then beat defending champions Australia before a no result against New Zealand.
Pakistan, by contrast, are struggling in the 10-team table with just one win—an upset against England, two defeats and a washout.
Kohli downplayed the frenzy and excitement surrounding the high-octane clash, with more than a billion people set to tune in, but said the “intimidating” atmosphere would bring out the best from his players. “For Sunday, we know we’re there when it comes to the mindset. Just about going out there and having a game plan, executing it,” said Kohli. “As soon as you enter the field, it’s calm and relaxed. The atmosphere from the outside, for the first time, it’s a bit intimidating, but we’ll look to execute well. It’s been competitive for years. It’s a marquee event all over the world, an honor to be a part of the big game. Brings out the best in all of us.”
Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmed said his team needed to learn from their mistakes to get past a powerful Indian side. “We have to overcome our mistakes because India are also a very strong team. We will assess our performance and then we will plan,” he said.
Passionate fans of both sides want local bragging rights even if their team ultimately goes on to lose the tournament. “We want to win this match even if Kohli loses the Cup, we don’t care,” Harron Memon, an Indian fan in Nottingham, told AFP. “We have always dominated India in cricket. Call it war or sport, we are certainly going to win it come Sunday,” a Pakistan supporter wrote on Twitter.
The two teams have played each other in 131 ODI games, with Pakistan having a clear edge with 73 wins, despite their poor record against India at World Cups.