Perennial rivals India and Pakistan will face off at Old Trafford on Sunday in one of the World Cup’s most hotly-anticipated and massively-watched matches, news agency Reuters reports from Manchester.
Escalation of tension between the two neighbours following the Pulwama terror strike in Jammu and Kashmir and India’s counter surgical airstrike at Balakot in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir earlier this year has added spice to the two teams’ encounter on Sunday.
Some former players and fans even urged India to boycott the match at Old Trafford in protest against the Pulwama suicide attack that killed at least 40 CRPF jawans.
But the game was still the first World Cup fixture to sell out—hours after tickets went on sale for the 19,000-capacity stadium—and millions more will be watching at home.
India captain Virat Kohli and his Pakistani counterpart Sarfaraz Ahmed have played it cool, saying that the players are only focused on the game—despite obviously being aware of the hype.
“As soon as we step onto the field, it’s professional cricket… for us, it’s just another game you need to win as a team,” Reuters quoted Kohli as saying at a pre-tournament captains’ session with the media. “Eventually it’s a game of bat and ball and that’s what you need to focus on.”
Sitting next to him, stumper Sarfaraz nodded in agreement.
Pakistan are the undoubted underdogs, having never beaten India at a World Cup, not even when they won the title in 1992.
Under Kohli, India have made a strong start to their quest for a third World Cup title, with a clinical victory against holders Australia. Sarfaraz’s men need a pickup after slumping to a second defeat in four matches against Australia.
Fans hope the inclement English weather, which has already wreaked havoc with the tournament, does not provide an anti-climax after so much anticipation.