One year. It’s an unbelievably long time to think about a match you are gonna play after that period. It’s understandable if an underdog dreams of it having known the fixtures early and starts counting days, replaying the match again and again before actually getting into the middle. Visualisation, planning keep happening, with analysis of the opposition.
But this wasn’t a nondescript player thinking about the match of his life. It was Sachin Tendulkar. That’s what he started doing in 2002, when the 2003 World Cup fixtures were out.
His eyes were fixed on March 1. India vs Pakistan at Centurion. It was the match where thanks to the man himself, India seemed to have got rid of a mental block. For a long time they saw themselves as inferior to Pakistan, maybe because of the Javed Miandad six in 1986.
Before every Indo-Pak match, there is always this question posed to the captains, “How big a game is this?” Let’s take Sourav Ganguly or Rahul Dravid for example. Even they found it difficult to describe the magnitude of this contest, partly because of the external elements that invariably get attached to this fixture. “It’s a huge match. Winning this would be a big boost and we can give something for our fans to rejoice,” is what we often heard. Pakistan captains said similar things.
On Thursday, after India ensured that Champions Trophy will conclude with an Indo-Pak final, Virat Kohli was asked whether he had started thinking about the match.
“No.” Not a word added. Pressed later, he said, “We’re just going to go there and try to do the same things again. Be boring as a team, and hopefully the results will come.” No mention of pressure or playing Pakistan, although he did praise them for the way they turned things around following the defeat in Edgbaston on June 4. And on the eve of the final, Kohli emphasised there is nothing special about this match.
“We haven’t spoken about this game in any different way. We’ve practised the same way from the day we came here. Even today’s practice was nothing extra. There’s no over-excitement. People are just doing the normal things they do in any practice session. That’s the kind of approach we have maintained throughout the tournament. As I said last time, it’s just another game of cricket,” Kohli said.
India see it as just another day in office, or that’s what they say. Pakistan are totally in contrast. While Aamer Sohail says this team has nothing to be proud of the way they made it to the final, in London the talk has been about beating India. With their record in ICC tournaments against India getting worse, thoughts of beating the arch-rivals seem to occupy their mind more than before.
From Inzamam-ul-Haq to Misbah-ul-Haq to Sarfraz Ahmed now, all have the same fixation, to see this match as anything but normal: “It’s a big match. We want to give our best and beating India means a lot. There will be pressure, but it will be more on India because they are the top-ranked team and favourites,” Ahmed said.
In the previous match, Pakistan were consumed by the occasion as they looked like a side that took the field without any plan. Back then, nobody gave Pakistan a chance to be in London for the final, except for taking the flight back home, but here they are in typically Pakistani fashion, against all the odds, surprising themselves and the rest, gearing up for what coach Micky Arthur calls a massive match.
“The guys are under no illusion as to what the expectation is on them, but they’re genuinely excited. I said before the Edgbaston game, I thought they were really, really calm, but they’re very, very excited now, and there’s a hell of a good vibe in that dressing room. What we’ve tried to do is just prepare as we normally prepare. You know, we’ve concentrated more this time on our own games, on our own game plans, as to where we want to go with the game.”