Ever since the two countries first crossed swords on the cricket field just five years after partition, independence and creation, the matches have raised enough heat and dust both on and off the field to fill several books.
On the way careers have been established and shattered and myths have been created and broken. The price of defeat is high but the spoils of victory are immeasurable.
Conspiracy theories, intrigue and subterfuge are all part and parcel of India/Pakistan encounters. Bishan Singh Bedi for one—captain on India’s first tour to Pakistan in 23 years in 1978—swears his phones were tapped and the team trailed by spies. Even as Pakistan’s captain Mushtaq Mohammed urged his boys on to victory with tales of jehad.
Yes, passions do tend to get out of control when the two nations meet. But fortunately the players on both sides have learned not to let their emotions get the better of them, even if that does not always apply to the spectators.
If one were looking for a quick comparison of the two sides on the eve of the first Test it would clearly be a case of Indian experience against Pakistani youth. Only Inzamam-ul-Haq would qualify as a veteran among the visitors—indeed he is the oldest player on either side.
The home advantage may not come to much when it is a series between these two nations. For the home side invariably feels the pressure more due to the heavy load of expectations from its fans.
Fitness is another vital factor. The Pakistanis decided to leave fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar behind on these grounds, though there may have been other reasons.
For India, our pace attack which has made such a deep impact over the last three years, is battling to be fit for the series. L. Balaji, Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan have all been included in the team for the first Test. But any one of them could break down at any time in the series and this is a constant worry for the captain and his side.
There will be huge pressure on Sachin Tendulkar to perform, even though this is something he has learned to live with. This time though there is the added pressure of being on the threshold of breaking Sunil Gavaskar’s world record of 34 Test centuries.
How apt it would be if he does it in front of a full house at the Eden Gardens. But in Tendulkar’s case too, that dreaded 'tennis elbow'could flare up at any time. No one is underestimating the Pakistanis. They are volatile, unpredictable and hugely talented.
As for the two captains, whoever loses the series could well find his job snatched away from him. It has happened before and is likely to happen again. All in all, it looks like a great contest ahead of us.