India vs. Pakistan — perhaps the greatest rivalry in cricket, if not in world sports. But due to ongoing political tensions between the two bordering countries, tensions that are the main reason that the cricket rivalry has reached the level of intensity that it has, India and Pakistan have not played a bilateral series since 2013.
After intense negotiations, it appeared that India and Pakistan may finally meet in a head-to-head series in December of last year, but again, the deal crumbled and the plans went by the boards.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) proposed a series in 2016, to take place in a neutral country, possibly even in England. But Indian authorities nixed that plan too, citing scheduling conflicts, though suspicions remained that it was actually the chilly relations between the two countries — countries that have fought three major border wars since Pakistan split from India in 1947 — that led to the stalemate in restarting the India-Pakistan cricket competition.
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unexpected trip to Pakistan in December, however, there seemed to be at least a slight warming in India-Pakistan political relations, and that raised hopes that the 2016 bilateral cricket series may happen after all.
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“They have been told that the surprise visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Lahore which had led to a thaw in tensions between the two countries could lead to restoration of bilateral cricket ties as well,” an unnamed source inside the Pakistan Cricket Board told the Hindustan Times newspaper. “But the PCB has been told not to speak anymore on planned series and wait until some announcement comes from India.”
The last time the two countries faced each other came on February 15 last year in Adelaide Australia, in the fourth match of the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup. India got the better of that matchup, winning by 76 runs after bowling out Pakistan in 47 overs.
The World Cup match was watched on television by a reported 288 million people in India, with some estimates as high as one billion worldwide. By contrast, the 2015 NFL Super Bowl, which was the most-watched event in U.S. television history, drew just over 114 million viewers.
Watch highlights of the India vs. Pakistan 2015 Cricket World Cup match in the video below.
But even without a bilateral series in 2016, India and Pakistan are scheduled to play at least two, and possibly as many as four matches — all in the T20 format — within a one month span starting later this month, as part of two major international tournaments, including at least one match in India.
The rivalry will get at least some added intensity because after sweeping a three-match series from Australia at the end of January, India vaulted into the ICC World Number One spot in the T20 rankings.
Pakistan ranks seventh, but with 113 rankings points, just seven points behind India.
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The first scheduled T20 cricket showdown between India and Pakistan comes on February 27 in the 2016 Asia Cup in Bangladesh. India opens the five-nation tournament on February 24 against hosts Bangladesh, meeting Pakistan just three days later at Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur, Dhaka.
Depending on the performances of the two teams, they could meet again in the 2016 Asia Cup final on March 6, at the same venue.
But the second scheduled India vs. Pakistan match will be the focus of even more fanatical attention, because it comes as part of the ICC T20 World Cup, played in India starting with a qualifying round on March 8. India plays its first match on March 15 against New Zealand, while Pakistan opens against one the two qualifying nations the next day.
And then the big day arrives on March 19, when India faces Pakistan again, on the worldwide stage this time. The two teams are grouped together in Super 10 Group Two, meaning that if they finish first and second in that group, in either order, India and Pakistan could meet for a fourth time in 2016, in the T20 World Cup final on April 3 at Eden Garden in Kolkata.
Of course, India and Pakistan would each need to win their semifinal matches to reach what may turn out to be their fourth meeting in just over five weeks, in early 2016.
[Featured Photo By Morne de Klerk / Getty Images]