The sweet feeling of watching Pakistan beat India in the World Cup for the first time

There was no last-minute panic, no agonising self-destruction, just a straightforward win playing better cricket

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan soak in the moment after guiding Pakistan to a 10-wicket win  •  ICC/Getty Images

Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan soak in the moment after guiding Pakistan to a 10-wicket win  •  ICC/Getty Images

I looked up in disbelief, mortified by how unfair things seemed. Six-year-old me had just been told, in fairly unequivocal terms, that no, I couldn't be allowed to stay up well past midnight to watch the game right through to the end. It was much too late. That might sound fair enough, but it was June 8, 1999. Pakistan were playing India, and well, Pakistan were going to beat them.
Or so I thought when I went to bed that night at the halfway stage, spending the night dreaming of a routine Pakistan win. India had set Pakistan 228; below par, one felt, even in 1999. Besides, aside from an inexplicable loss to Bangladesh in a dead rubber a couple of games before, Pakistan had sailed into the Super Sixes in red-hot form, beating West Indies, New Zealand and Australia in a World Cup classic.
India, meanwhile, had begun the campaign with losses to South Africa and Zimbabwe, and only sneaked into the Super Sixes. Four days earlier, Australia had thumped them by 77 runs. It didn't feel like they had the runs, or indeed the bowlers, to seriously challenge Pakistan - not to my six-year old self anyway.
I checked the score first thing next morning. Apparently, Venkatesh Prasad had done again what I'd been told he'd done three years earlier in a World Cup quarter-final between the sides. Pakistan, who would finish top of the Super Six table, had been hammered by the side that would end up bottom; it was the only match India won against a Super Six side. My introductory experience of Pakistan vs India was perhaps the first time it really began to feel like a jinx.


Over the next two decades, these games - nine of them, to be precise - took on a bizarre, amnesic shade, each World Cup contest hyped and promoted as if the previous one had never happened. It was a marketer's dream; in Pakistan, the fans were sold hope -which they bought by the crate load. In India, it was another chance to have that sweetest kind of fun - the kind that came at Pakistan's expense. Tickets sold out in minutes, were scalped and rebought at obscene prices. The day arrived, people tuned in by the hundreds of millions, or even a billion, depending on which ratings metric you chose to believe. India cruised to victory, the cycle continued.
The T20 World Cup in 2007 saw this curiously one-sided streak extend to a second format, with a group stage win in a bowl-out - which now feels like one of those science experiments too ludicrous to be allowed to happen - followed by a five-run victory in a gloriously agonising final. Misbah-ul-Haq had looked like he was making amends for the group stage with a heroic one-man counterattack but would end up giving India one of its most iconic moments of sporting triumphalism, and provide the origin myth for the advent of the IPL.
It seems a long time ago, and not just because it was 2008, that Sohail Tanvir pulled one through midwicket to win his side the IPL final. At the time, this inclusive, nascent competition promised to usher in a fresh era in Indo-Pak relations. Hindsight would tell you that's as good as it got for Pakistanis at the IPL. Or, indeed, for Rajastan Royals.
Relations soured, and Pakistan found their players locked out of the IPL. The cricketing gulf between the two countries widened, both in terms of administrative power and on-field performance. By now, an Indian win over Pakistan didn't feel like a jinx so much as it did the right cricketing result.
Even if the pain had been numbed by repeated exposure to it, a bruising semi-final defeat at India's hands in Mohali stood out. It had its classic Pakistani cast of characters - Wahab Riaz playing the bowling wizard with a five wicket-haul, the highlight of which involved Player of the Tournament Yuvraj Singh being yorked for a golden duck. There was the scapegoat - poor Misbah again for supposedly batting too cautiously in the chase. There were the fielders happily putting down anything Sachin Tendulkar hit right at them. There was the conspiracy theory of Tendulkar's non-lbw, a rabbithole best avoided here.
And above all, of course, there was a Pakistani defeat and an Indian victory that saw MS Dhoni - who might have looked perfectly at home in a Pakistan side of the '80s - lead his side to a World Cup trophy. Five further World Cup games yielded five heavy Pakistani defeats, with a famously bizarre victory in the 2017 Champions Trophy final the only balm for Pakistan's psychological wounds.
It was that context in which Babar Azam and Virat Kohli's sides stood side by side for the anthems in Dubai on Sunday. Even when Pakistan won what looked a vital toss and began brilliantly, India's dominance over this fixture meant it was difficult to really feel comfortable from a Pakistan perspective. Sure, the exhilaration of Shaheen Afridi's first over was considerable, but that's more of a universal experience, like a Jasprit Bumrah yorker or a one-legged Rohit Sharma pull. Sure, 151 in Dubai was perhaps a below-par total, but so was 227 in Manchester 22 years ago, remember?
I interviewed Babar last month. It was a cordial enough chat, but there was one occasion where he'd allowed irritation to flicker on his face. I'd just asked him if opening alongside Mohammad Rizwan was indeed the most progressive thing Pakistan could do.
"Yes, absolutely," he said, irritated by the audacity of the query. "Look at how well that's gone, at our performances in the past year, at the records he has broken. The year's not done yet and he has already scored the most-ever T20I runs in a calendar year. What more do you need, really?"
Two men who weren't born the first time India beat Pakistan in a World Cup match had helped Pakistan remove a stone from their shoe that had been chafing away for 29 years
If it was any other opposition, or any other tournament, you'd have known six overs into the chase that Babar and Rizwan had an unassailable, vice-like grip on this contest. The target didn't require explosive hitting, the ball was coming onto the bat nicely, and there were no hiccups at the start. These two are the most prolific T20 opening pair since the start of the year by some distance; in April, they'd put on 197 in under 18 overs at Centurion to help chase down 205. They were in that sort of mood. But India were the opposition, so you couldn't quite see it just yet.
But the runs kept getting knocked off. Bumrah was negotiated with maturity; the whole chase in general was being pursued with a sort of cold ruthlessness completely alien to Pakistan and their supporters. Even as the asking rate was dragged down over by over, it felt as if the game was in a holding pattern; what really mattered was what happened once a wicket fell. Following the game on your smartphone was a different experience altogether, WhatsApp groups abuzz with nightmarish worst case scenarios from Pakistan fans looking to inoculate themselves from the pain when (or was it "if"?) their side found a way to muck up this chase.
That, mercifully for Pakistan fans, was a sporting experience they didn't have to endure. In the 18th over, the excitement levels rising to a crescendo, Rizwan walloped Mohammad Shami for six over fine leg. Four balls later, Babar whipped one through the leg side, called his partner over for two, and that was that. Two men who weren't born the first time India beat Pakistan in a World Cup match - all the way back in 1992 - had helped Pakistan cricket remove a stone from their shoe that had been chafing away at them for 29 years. There is much that divides Pakistan, but for a few days, the country can bask in a therapeutic moment of harmony, fleeting and illusory as it might be.
So how, then, did it feel? Well, somewhat numbing for how it happened. There was no last-minute panic, no agonising self-destruction, no letting the pressure of a nation weigh them down. There was no salvaging of national pride, no one-upmanship in a bitter rivalry. Pakistan had just beaten India in a cricket match in the only way it was possible to do so - by playing better cricket on the day.
"What more," as Babar might put it, "do you need, really?"

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000