India vs Pakistan: More than just cricket at the World Cup
It's the contest for continental supremacy played on a global stage.
It's the mini-title game of the World Cup group stage for more than 1 billion people in two cricket-crazed countries — the nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan.
The sport British colonizers introduced to the subcontinent during the Raj, and which both India and Pakistan continued to embrace in the wake of the partition, divides and unites the countries at the same time.
"It's a marquee event all over the world," India captain Virat Kohli told World Cup broadcasters earlier this week. "The frenzy around it is a bit intimidating for the guys doing it for the first time, but for us it's about being professional as always, do the basics right and look to get a result."
India has won all six times the countries have met at the Cricket World Cup, but Pakistan has won more of their one-day international meetings overall — 73-54 — since 1978 and caused an upset here two years ago with a victory in the Champions Trophy final against its greatest rival.
India responded by comprehensively winning both their head-to-head encounters at last year's Asia Cup.
Kohli scored a century and was player of the match the last time India beat Pakistan at the World Cup, a game staged far away in the southern Australian city of Adelaide in 2015.
Sunday's venue at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, will be swamped with ex-pats, visitors and generations of people from families which migrated from the subcontinent. The television audience will be enormous.
India, which won its first World Cup title in England in 1983 and its second on home soil in 2011, was the last team to get started at the 2019 edition of the tournament. Kohli's team opened with wins over South Africa in Southampton and defending champion Australia at the Oval in London before its game against 2015 finalist New Zealand was washed out at Nottingham.
That left both India and New Zealand unbeaten heading into the weekend, but both needing a bit of extra time in the practice nets.
"We are quite ready to take that game on," Kohli said of the Pakistan encounter, in comments published by the BBC. "It's an opportunity to create excitement."
Pakistan's form has been patchy, but it's a team that can rise to the occasion. After losing a lopsided opening game to West Indies, Sarfaraz Ahmed's team rebounded to beat top-ranked England, the host and pre-tournament title favorite.
But they followed that up with a loss to Australia, meaning the game against India takes on even more significance. Pakistan had to share points with Sri Lanka after a group game was washed out, and needs to start accumulating quickly to have any chance of finishing in the top four and earning a spot in the playoffs.
Imam-ul-Haq scored a half-century in the loss to Australia, a result that was a lot closer in the moment than it appears on paper, and said it's now or never with semifinals spots at stake.
"Yes, it's a huge pressure game — obviously Pakistan-India there's lots of mysteries behind that," Imam said. "But we want to focus on our strengths, what we can do better.
"Obviously, it's great to be part of that Pakistan-India. It's going to be a good game in Manchester — lots of Pakistan-India fans are going to be there. I'm really excited about it."
There's always tension around the game, with conflict rhetoric building up on social and mainstream media in recent weeks.
Kohli never attempts to play down the significance of the contest, but he's always at pains to assure cricket fans there's no animosity between the players. In a twist on a sporting cliche, it seems, what happens off the field, stays off the field.
Diplomatic relations have been strained over the disputed Kashmir region, and Narendra Modi excluded Pakistan counterpart Imran Khan from a list of regional leaders invited to his swearing-in ceremony as India's prime minister last month.
Modi invited then-Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, for his swearing-in ceremony in 2014. But hostility between the two nations, which have fought three wars since winning independence from Britain in 1947, has not eased in the past five years.
Both prime ministers no doubt will be closely monitoring the cricket, although Imran will have a deeper understanding of what the contest is like in person. The former star cricketer led Pakistan to its only World Cup title in 1992.