India v Pakistan, Champions Trophy, Group A, Centurion September 25, 2009

The bite is back in marquee clash

Both captains played it down as just another game, and how revenge wasn't on anyone's mind but these are statements of habit
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So the spice is back. Something had been lost in the glut of matches India and Pakistan played between 2004 and 2007. The complaint was they had become too familiar with each other, that brotherly love had replaced the needle that usually charges these encounters. To be frank if the last year between the two nations off-field is what it takes to bring back some taste, a sense of occasion, then we are all better off without it.

But for better or worse, an occasion is what we have in Centurion tomorrow. Both captains played it down as just another game, and how revenge wasn't on anyone's mind but these are statements of habit; India and Pakistan in a big tournament cannot be anything but a big match. It could be some match given the players on both sides.

Much of it, as Younis Khan said, will come down to handling the very bigness of the occasion, taking the important catch, keeping your head in a chase, holding your ground and nerve at the death. "I want to take it as a normal game. When you put a lot of pressure, you collapse. We have a balanced side but it depends on the day, how we handle pressure, against a side like India. Whoever handles the pressure will win."

Successful Pakistan captains, historically, are those who have been able to handle the men at their disposal. It has never been as important as Pakistan captain to strategise and be tactically astute as it has been to just manage, to bring together and get going, a group of uniquely-skilled players. Men who have done it, like Kardar and Imran are lionized, more so than men with the cricket intelligence of a Javed Miandad, Aamer Sohail or Salim Malik.

Both tomorrow and in the longer run this will be the thrust of Younis' work. Pakistan do have a nice balance to them, both in terms of skills and age. Their batting stumbled against West Indies, but the return of Younis himself to an experienced middle order, and the continuing fizzle of Umar Akmal's bat will help matters. And for all the wizened heads in the side, it may well be that one of the fresher ones, such as Akmal or Mohammad Aamer do what needs to be done. Youth holds not all the aces in life, but many of them. And not knowing the pressures of an India-Pakistan game, believes Younis, may be one of them.

"Actually they are very young," Younis said, even if both seem remarkably mature about their games. "They don't know about the pressure and that's a good thing. When I was very young I had no fear about my performance or if I failed. I am lucky I have players like them who don't know about pressure. Old players like me or Yousuf or Misbah - they know they have maybe four to five years more and that is pressure and we know that. Youngsters play for themselves and country without pressure. I will not put pressure on them - go out there, play normally. This is a key thing about the younger guys."

The pitch may also decide to pop by into any debate about Saturday's prospects. It is to be the same one as the one used in South Africa's win over New Zealand and Younis thought it to be slow and soft. If it rains tonight it will get softer still, but a little sunshine tomorrow morning - and it is forecast - may change matters yet.

All that is left now is to revisit the old chestnut of these games, about wanting cricket to be the winner. It is a sweet and noble sentiment and at a grander, uninvolved level, desirable also. But no mistake should be made; tomorrow resumes after a brief, troubled pause, a rivalry unlike any. Cricket can win, but both sides will be inestimably happier if they are co-winners with it.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo