India vs Pakistan: A shadow of its former glory
It is a storied rivalry, probably the most prestigious cricketing duel, though the Ashes might have more heritage on its side. Over the years, as tension between the subcontinental neighbors ebbed and flowed, the sport loved the most by the teeming millions of these two passionate nations has become the most preferred outlet for the expression of patriotism and superiority - for both Indians and Pakistanis.
It has been a great battle purely in terms of the sport as well. Who can forget India's famous wins in major World Cups including the semi-final in 2011? Or Pakistan's breathtaking Test wins in Kolkata and Chennai? Or India's triumphant tour of the neighboring nation in 2003-04? The see-saw battles in Sharjah where Pakistan had the upper hand?
Javed Miandad's last-ball six in Sharjah or Sachin Tendulkar's heroism in Centurion remain unforgettable moments in the annals of the game. The world looks at this match-up as the biggest advertisement of the socio-political impact of the sport.
Cricket-wise though, the rivalry has clearly lost its luster - as evidenced by India's dominant victory in another World Cup game on Sunday. The signs were there even before the action got underway. A simple comparison of the personnel taking the field for both teams proved the imbalance.
India had the No.1 ranked bowler and batsmen in the world in the form of Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah. Pakistan's best bet in these two departments were the work-in-progress Babar Azam and the talented but conflicted Mohammad Amir.
India came into the match a complete ODI side, one of the favorites for the title who had already dispatched South Africa and Australia with ease. Pakistan showed their prowess in getting the better of top guns England, but were decimated by West Indies and shackled by Australia.
They were captained by Sarfaraz Ahmed, whose fitness levels have been under scrutiny; who brings experience and acumen to the table but none of the cricketing brilliance and inspiration that exude from Kohli. In fact, India proved throughout the game that they were the hungrier and fitter lot, better fielders and better runners.
The game had, therefore, seemed like a foregone conclusion even before a ball was bowled. That could have all changed had Pakistan's impressive pace attack made inroads early on. However, that hope was negated by a sublime knock from the modern great Rohit Sharma, and India were on their way to a gargantuan total.
Sharma caressed the ball with his God-gifted timing and Kohli showed his class and maturity to complete the task.
Nothing changed in the second innings. While Pakistan fielded five bowlers, including two spinners, they could hardly match up in quality to the zip and turn brought to the table by Kuldeep Yadav and, to an extent, Yuzvendra Chahal.
Form doesn't always matter
Things could have been different though. India had entered as the favorites in another ICC tournament match, the Champions Trophy final in 2017, whereas Pakistan had been the surprise entrant into the final, having come into the tournament as the lowest-ranked side. They still put in an all-round show to record a famous victory that day.
However, there was no encore at Old Trafford on Sunday. India, even sans the prolific Shikhar Dhawan, were just a lot better than a mediocre Pakistan side that rarely showed any signs of putting up a fight.
Fearsome in the past
Gone are the days when a Pakistan team featured ace bowlers like Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis and brilliant batsmen like Saeed Anwar and Inzamam-ul-Haq. Those were the days when an Indo-Pak rivalry set the pulses racing for fans of both sides.
With international matches at home venues all but stopped due to terrorist threats and occasional crises at the board level, Pakistan cricket has really taken a hit in recent years.
They are clearly a side that is in a rebuilding phase and none of their players, despite the evident talent on display, are global household names anymore - something unthinkable of past Pakistan sides. The current India team, on the other hand, is full of the best in the business.
The 7-0 scoreline in World Cups might only get worse if Pakistan fail to regain some vestige of their former glory. Even the head-to-head record, where they still hold the edge, might soon change in favor of India.
While fans of the men in blue would love for that to happen, cricket in general might be left poorer if the rivalry fails to regain its past glory.
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