The T20 Cricket World Cup will feature one of the fiercest sporting rivalries in India against Pakistan. While the matchup is historically charged, the rivalry has taken on a different dimension in recent years.
"When the greatest rivals collide the world will stand still," actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson declares in a commercial for the most hotly anticipated game at the upcoming T20 World Cup.
"This is more than just a cricket match. It's time for India vs Pakistan!"
While having an internationally renowned Hollywood star like Johnson add his voice to the chorus of building excitement is no mean feat, the fixture requires no added hype. Any time the cricketing heavyweights meet, the dhols beat louder, the sounds outside and within the ground are deafening many hours before the toss and the frenzy as the players make their way out to the field is all the bigger.
Tickets for the T20 World Cup group game between two subcontinent teams at Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday sold out within five minutes of their release. Despite the weather forecast in the Australian city predicting a 90% chance of rain, the ground is still expecting a crowd of over 90,000 spectators — all hoping for a glimpse of their heroes.
This Sunday's clash, the 14th time India and Pakistan will meet in either a 50-over or 20-over World Cup tournament, will be a game that takes on a different dimension .
Political tensions cause tournament-only matchups
Despite contests between the two teams consistently drawing huge interest across the globe,
since 2012 India and Pakistan have only met in official International Cricket Committee (ICC) tournaments or during the Asia Cup.
Following the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, in which an Islamist terror group conducted 12 coordinated attacks that killed 175 people, the two nations have played just a solitary, bilateral, limited-overs series, with Pakistan visiting India during December 2012-January 2013.
With no easing of political tensions in the last 10 years, meetings between the two teams appear to be manufactured during ICC tournaments as the cricket governing body aims to capitalize on the popularity of the fixture.
The neighbors have been placed in the same group in the opening stages of the past five editions of the T20 World Cup and the previous two 50-over World Cup competitions. The last time they were placed in separate groups was the 2011 Cricket World Cup in India, though the two eventually faced off in the semifinal — India beat Pakistan before defeating Sri Lanka in the final.
The two most recently met in August's Asia Cup in the United Arab Emirates, first during the group stages then during the super fours. India beat Pakistan by five wickets in their first meeting before Pakistan returned the favor in the super fours with Pakistan eventually losing the final to Sri Lanka.
World Cup showcase
This year's men's T20 World Cup, the eighth edition of the tournament, was forced to be rescheduled due to the 2020 COVID pandemic. But the upcoming India-Pakistan matchup has rekindled excitement for the tournament.
"India vs Pakistan is huge," ex-Australian cricketer Mel Jones said in an ICC official pre-tournament video. "I can remember when the tickets went on sale in Australia, it was 4-5 minutes, and they were sold out.
"It had everyone in Australia going, 'oh okay it [the World Cup] is coming', the big boys are coming to town."
While generations of Indian and Pakistani families who have emigrated to Australia from the subcontinent will pack out the stadium, many more hundreds of millions are expected to follow the action digitally and on TV. Their Asian Cup clashes earlier this year drew a digital audience of over 225 million viewers, breaking successive records for a T20 International.
"This is my first World Cup as a captain so I'm pretty excited and whenever we play Pakistan it is always a blockbuster," Indian captain Rohit Sharma said ahead of start of the tournament. "You feel the atmosphere more than anything else."
Babar Azam, Sharma's Pakistani counterpart, added: "Any match against India is always a high-intensity contest. Fans also wait for them. On the field, we enjoy it a lot and give our 100%."
Support frenzy comes with negatives
Often, so wildly thunderous is the crowd during India and Pakistan matches that the players have admitted to struggling to hear each other over the chorus of noise their fans are making. But the fevered support both teams enjoy has equally serious and more sinister drawbacks with players on the losing side often subjected to abuse.
Fans of both teams have been known to burn effigies of players and pelt their houses with stones and paint following a defeat. Last year following India's loss to Pakistan in the opening match of the 2021 T20 World Cup, bowler Mohammad Shami, the only Muslim player in India's starting XI, had a torrent of abuse aimed at him on social media and was labeled a 'traitor' with the emphasis for the insult placed on his religion.
Shami was roundly supported by many former Indian players, including Virender Shewag, who took to Twitter to defend the bowler.
Nevertheless, social media has added a further unpleasant layer for the players to have to manage and contemplate before and after the game.
Despite the negative reactions that can accompany matches between the cricketing superpowers, hundreds of millions of people are expectedly awaiting the next chapter of this storied contest on Sunday.