Champions Trophy 2017: India v Pakistan – the biggest match in sport Sunday
Few sporting match-ups are capable of stirring such heated passions than that of India vs. Pakistan in cricket.
“It’s not just a game of cricket, it’s a lot more than that.”
Those are the words of former Pakistan captain Asif Iqbal before arguably the biggest match in sport this year.
Former all-rounder Iqbal was born in Hyderabad in India before emigrating to, and subsequently representing, Pakistan.
The 73-year-old told BBC Sport this is undoubtedly the biggest cricketing rivalry in the world, saying: “It’s similar to the Ashes [between England and Australia], but to me it’s more than that because of the history, the background, the politics.”
Billed as the world’s biggest sporting rivalry, the two teams are expected to draw a global TV audience of over a billion when they face-off Sunday, in the fourth match of the ICC Champions Trophy, in Birmingham, England.
Their last 50-over meeting was in the 2015 World Cup in Australia, when India humbled its western neighbor.
An estimated one billion people tuned in across the world to watch India beat Pakistan by 76 runs/
The Sunday match — their first encounter this year — comes off the back of escalating political tensions between the two neighboring countries, following recent skirmishes along the border and a pending case at the International Court of Justice.
On Monday, Indian Sports Minister Vijay Goel added more kindling to the fire when he told reporters that India would not play Pakistan in a bilateral series, while cross-border “terror from Pakistan remains.”
“Terror and sports cannot go hand in hand,” Goel added, referring to ongoing violence in the disputed Kashmir region.
The Minister’s proposed sporting boycott will not affect Sunday’s tie, which is part of an international tournament, and not a bilateral five day series.
India is the tournament’s current reigning champion and hot favorite going into Sunday’s match.
But in the UK, where over two million people claim roots in either India or Pakistan, such odds are irrelevant.
The match is only the fourth time the two teams have met competitively on British soil and the rarity of the event makes it a unique occasion for members of the UK’s Indian and Pakistani diaspora.
“Perhaps the notion of cricket diplomacy will once again be raised, the idea that playing one another at cricket might somehow act as a balm to an irreconcilably raw neighborly partition,” commented Barney Ronay in The Guardian. “Mohammad Amir’s reawakening can jolt India and lift Pakistan from torpor,” Ronay added.
An Indian fan poses with flags of India and Pakistan outside the Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium, on December 28, 2012.