CHENNAI: The Oval will be the ground to be in on Sunday. Close to 25,000 people packed in and backing either India or Pakistan as they face off in the Champions Trophy final.
However, there is another significant event happening some 17 kilometres away in Stratford. Both countries will be facing each other in the Hockey World League Semifinal. With India maintaining their stance of only playing Pakistan in ranking events, Sunday’s match is the first since Asian Champions Trophy final last October (India won 3-2).
There was a time when an India, Pakistan match in hockey sent the hype factory into overdrive. That’s not the case anymore. The aura is missing and there is also an acceptance from both sides that they do not operate on the same table — the current world rankings reflects that. India is in 6th, while Pakistan is languishing in 13th.
But there is still something special about such a match, according to former captain V Bhaskaran.
“Back in those days, it was magical,” he says to Express.
“One of us would be No 1 and the other would be No 2. The build up was almost mythical. These days, obviously that’s not the case but players will wake up on Sunday morning knowing it’s going to be a special match.”
He also sheds light on how the team was asked to behave with respect to interacting with opponents.
“I remember on a few occasions we were asked to not mingle much with them,” he says.
The 66-year-old, also reveals how talk of tactics went out the window when Pakistan was the opponent.
“When I was the coach, we used to spend time talking about our game, the structure and how best to attack. If it was Pakistan, that kind of planning was secondary. First, we spoke about getting mentally ready.”
On the evidence of the first two days, it looks like they don’t have to worry. Khawaja Junaid’s wards have had a shocking first two matches. After losing 0-4 to Netherlands, he assured fans they will see a different side. “Kal aap ko ek alag Pakistan team nazar aayegi (you will see a different Pakistan tomorrow),” he told. He was partly right. On Friday, they lost Zero-six to Canada.
Manpreet Singh men’s have no such problems. Functioning like a well-oiled machine, they continued their winning run with an impressive 3-0 win over Canada. One more win, in all likelihood, will take them into the semifinals.
Saturday’s results: China 5 (Lixing Su 3, Jun Su 5, 15, Liguang E 44, Zixiang Guo 60) bt South Korea 2 (Jihun Yang 10, Weonki Hwang 40); India 3 (SV Sunil 5, Akashdeep Singh 10, Sardar Singh 18) bt Canada 0.
Sunday’s matches (all times IST): Pakistan vs India (6.30 pm), England vs Argentina (8.30).