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Feature

India vs Pakistan - cricket, not hype, takes centre stage ahead of Round 2

The lack of shouting and screaming after the result last Sunday has led to a very different mood ahead of this Sunday's marquee contest

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
03-Sep-2022
Can you keep history away when it's India vs Pakistan? Turns out, you can.
Unlike before their first meeting last Sunday, where the talk was around a "friendly rivalry" and the "lovey-dovey" nature of it, this one feels different.
India-Pakistan contests have become so one-sided now that there is this feeling that the build-up is bigger than the match itself. If Pakistan's spree of World Cup losses over the years played into India's chorus of "mauka, mauka" prior to every ICC event, Pakistan's "hisaab barabar" chants after the ten-wicket dismantling of India at last year's T20 World Cup was a strong riposte.
But all that seems to be in the past now. Because Round 1 produced such a compelling contest, the cricket itself has taken centre stage ahead of Round 2. And no one is complaining.
Prior to last Sunday, you would have to think hard to remember when an India-Pakistan result had been accepted with such magnanimity by those on the losing side (at least in public). It almost seemed like the unity and brotherhood is what it really was about, and there was no need to let one result trigger over-the-top reactions.
Ahead of the first game, Babar Azam must have felt a bit tired after stressing, repeatedly, that Shaheen Afridi's absence was a big loss indeed. It wasn't too different for Rohit Sharma, who had to do the same when it came to Jasprit Bumrah.
A week on, the focus and hype from the outside seems to have veered towards the teams, not just individuals, or the camaraderie they share and show. There is the realisation that all the ingredients have come together to make one more fascinating T20 contest. Sample these: Virat Kohli vs Naseem Shah. Babar vs Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Hardik Pandya vs Fakhar Zaman. These are fascinating subplots to the game.
Kohli has had two starts and is looking build on some fluency. On Friday, two days out from the match, he had a lengthy chat with head coach Rahul Dravid during a training session. He then batted for a long time. Towards the end, he mimicked Suryakumar Yadav's 360-degree game, much to everyone's amusement.
On Saturday, India had an optional nets session, but Pakistan didn't train at all, owing to a short turnaround from their game against Hong Kong in Sharjah on Friday.
Haris Rauf talked about the calmness in the camp; he spoke of how individuals are preparing for a big game in their own ways - mixing rest and recovery, with some fun, and not fretting over this being "another big game".
But there are questions for both teams to answer.
How will India deal with the absence of Ravindra Jadeja? And will KL Rahul find his old form? Pakistan, meanwhile, won't have Shahnawaz Dahani either. Which means Axar Patel and Hasan Ali could get in.
Naseem is every bit that kid in a sweet shop, who has been given the new ball and told to simply do his thing. Babar is looking for a score of substance, while Fakhar's effectiveness has everyone, including their former coach Mickey Arthur, wondering about the kind of damage he could do if he opened the batting.
India's focus has firmly been on the present. Pakistan haven't once spoken of the banana peel their game against Hong Kong had the potential of being. There's a sense of assuredness about Babar's men that hasn't come easily. For this, much of the credit should go to the captain and the coaching staff.
If Round 1 was exciting, Round 2 offers more of the same. High stakes, high pressure. Yet, it feels different because of the calm - far removed from the chatter that usually dominates the narrative.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo