ICC Women’s World T20 2018 Preview – India v Pakistan
India may be the better team on paper or even have an overwhelming record against Pakistan but they will be wary of the fact that their arch rivals have pulled off victories in mega events.
Imagine playing 20 matches in 13 years with your least favourite club, or the rowdy team in the next lane. With matches so spread out, you might not even have enough to develop a rivalry, with any slights forgotten over the interceding months.
It may not feel like it, but when India take on Pakistan in Sunday’s first game in the ICC Women’s World T20 2018, it will only be the 21st time the two teams have faced each other in any format since 2005. And yet a match between the two teams can whip up emotions of unmatched intensity, fitting for a rivalry with decades of history.
Pakistan come into the game after a bruising 52- run defeat to Australia. India on the other hand are in red-hot form, having won all their warm-up games and demolishing New Zealand in the tournament opener. That win was fashioned by what could prove to be the innings of the tournament: Harmanpreet Kaur became the first Indian to score a T20I hundred, smashing an astounding 103 in 51 balls against the White Ferns, with eight towering sixes.
But none of that will matter: On Sunday, Pakistan will play with nothing to lose, and the pressure will certainly be on India, who are on-paper the stronger team. And both sides will be aware of one fact: Pakistan women have beaten India twice in ICC global events.
The first of those occasions came in 2012, in the ICC Women’s World T20 in Sri Lanka. In a low-scoring thriller at Galle, Pakistan restricted India to 97, two short of their target of just 99, to sneak home a dramatic one-run win. While that win was feted in their home country, it was not televised, nor was it played out in front of a large and passionate crowd.
Both these conditions were fulfilled the second time Pakistan beat India, in the ICC Women’s World T20 2016 at the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi. In a rain-affected game, Pakistan secured a win through the DLS method, staying above the par score while chasing India’s 96 for seven as the heavens opened up. India have won all the remaining 18 encounters.
It is no coincidence that both wins came within the confines of multi-team tournaments. In men’s cricket, some India-Pakistan series –like India’s victorious tour in 2004— are now a part of the folklore that at once both bind and separate the two countries. But India and Pakistan’s women’s teams have little such entanglement, because in all the 13 years they have played each other, they have never played a bilateral series.
They have met exclusively in Asia Cups and ICC global events. Even their scheduled meetings in the last ICC Women’s Championship cycle did not come to pass due to circumstances.
And yet the few times the teams have crossed paths, the edge of the rivalry has been apparent, as has a refreshing amount of respect and goodwill between the teams. There is the story of Sana Mir asking her team to celebrate softly after their 2016 win, out of consideration for the Indian staff manning their dressing room.
There are tales of India’s Jaya Sharma and Pakistan’s Asmavia Iqbal going shopping together in Karachi, when India were in the country for the 2005-06 Asia Cup. And the story of Kainat Imtiaz, the Pakistan pace bowler, meeting her idol Jhulan Goswami after the two sides met in the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017, telling her about how she was a ball kid for that series in Karachi. Imtiaz was inspired to bowl fast when she saw Goswami, much like Goswami was inspired to play cricket when she was a ball kid in the 1997 Women’s World Cup.
Between the players themselves, there seems to be a clear grasp on the reality and triviality of sport in the larger picture. Sport is not war, and every game is just that, a game, something they reiterate in every press conference.
And yet there is an acknowledgement that for pretty much everyone else, an India-Pakistan match is more. The players all recognise that they do not exist in a bubble, and as much as they try to narrow their focus, the expectations they carry with them are inescapable. For 22 individuals who spend their careers trying to simplify the game of cricket, the India-Pakistan game is a challenge on a mental level unlike anything else.
Which is why Sunday promises to be a riveting encounter, no matter the result. Rarity inflates value, and that is exactly why this ICC Women’s World T20 match between these countries will be all the more special.
Welcome to India versus Pakistan, version 2018.
©Cricket World 2018