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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 March, 2004, 10:15 GMT
Cricket's most intense rivalry
By Oliver Brett

Pakistan versus India.

Those three words alone conjure up such vibrant images of tense encounters on dust-bowl pitches watched by fiercely partisan crowds.

And the sheer rarity of the matches - at a time when then international calendar is saturated by so many instantly forgettable fixtures - lends an almost mythical status to Pakistan-India matches.

But why is this particular series so important for the international game?

STAR PLAYERS

Tendulkar and Shoaib
When Tendulkar faces Shoaib there's sure to be excitement

If the upcoming series was a Hollywood, or indeed Bollywood film, it is easy to guess who would have top billing.

Shoaib Akhtar, he of the 100mph delivery, and the record-breaking batsman Sachin Tendulkar are the obvious crowd-pullers.

But Pakistan have a mighty batsman of their own, captain Inzamam-ul-Haq, while India's Rahul Dravid is rated the third best batsman in the world.

India look weaker in their bowling, with their two star spinners out, but the return of the impressive left-arm seamer Zaheer Khan will set the Bharat Army's pulses racing.

In the one-day internationals. India's explosive force is Virender Sehwag, while Abdul Razzaq can clear the ropes in equally effective fashion.

FANS

An English cricket fan can watch his team humbled at Lord's, shrug his shoulders, and mumble: "Well, there's always the rugby."

West Indians can be vociferously enthusiastic when Brian Lara is in his pomp, but when the seamers start spraying the ball about, they become disenchanted quite quickly.

For Indians and Pakistanis, there is no such cheap escape clause. Unbending loyalty, unyielding faith and an all-consuming passion for the game seep through their veins when they watch their heroes perform on the big stage.

QUALITY OF THE TEAMS

Turn the international clock back 18 months and you see Pakistan and India playing moderate cricket against most nations, with lowly positions in the Test and one-day international league tables.

But things have changed dramatically since then.

India reached the final of the 2003 Cricket World Cup and then, after years of periodical failure in Tests away from home, drew a series in Australia.

Pakistan's ascent has been equally dramatic.

They were truly dreadful in the World Cup, but after sacking coach Richard Pybus and some of the older contingent of players, 2003 ended on a high note.

In seven Tests following the World Cup they won five matches and drew two. And while they were not quite so imperious in one-day cricket in the same time-frame, they have nevertheless won 15 matches and lost just eight.

HISTORY

Imran Khan
Imran Khan was a 20th century hero

Only eight years into their rivalry, cricketing relations were suspended for the first time between India and Pakistan from 1960-1978.

When they resumed, there was plenty of success for Pakistan, who won 3-0 in 1982-83 as Imran Khan took 40 wickets.

Imran recently told BBC World Service's Story of Cricket: "People who knew nothing about cricket followed that series because it was against India. For me it was the time when I became a hero."

But India's tour to Pakistan in 1989 proved to be their last before the current tour as the two governments broke off regular sporting contact because of a dispute over the Himalayan state of Kashmir.

There were three Tests between the two sides in India in 1998-99 before relations between the two governments cooled again.

For cricket fans, however, the meeting of the two teams at the 2003 World Cup showed the rivalry was as intense as ever, with India coming out on top in a stunning, run-filled match at Centurion.

It was followed last November by an announcement from the Board of Control in India (BCCI) that a tour to Pakistan would take place in 2004.

Now the waiting is over.




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