The semifinals of the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy turned out exactly how most cricket fans would have wanted, with Pakistan pulling off a surprising upset of host England on Wednesday. It was followed one day later by heavily favored India rolling past subcontinental neighbor Bangladesh, to set up a final on Sunday likely that’s likely to draw a billion viewers worldwide as the latest chapter in the fiercest rivalry in global sports unfolds — the 195th contest between India and Pakistan across all formats of cricket.
The match will be the 129th One Day International India vs. Pakistan match in the increasingly rare series of head-to-head confrontations between the two historical rivals, for whom cricket has long served to ease the always dangerous tensions between the bordering countries. In fact, tensions have flared in just the past week, with a series of deadly clashes in the disputed Kashmir region.
India was partitioned into two nations in 1947, with the predominately Muslim Pakistan to the northwest of the much larger and overwhelmingly Hindu India. Hostilities between India and Pakistan broke out almost immediately and have erupted into full-scale war four times — most recently in 1999 — in the 70 years since the partition. India blamed Pakistan for a devastating Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008, and the two countries have not played a Test cricket match since then.
When India defeated Pakistan by 124 runs in their Champions Trophy group stage match on June 4, the game was only the 17th between the arch-rivals since the Mumbai attacks, which killed a staggering 164 people. Prior to that match, the two had not squared off since March 19, 2016, when India won their match in the T20 World Cup, played in India.
But now India and Pakistan will face each other after just a quick two-week wait, and this time the stakes are high with the Champions Trophy — the second-most prestigious prize in international cricket, after the Cricket World Cup — going to the winner of the tournament final, to be played Sunday, June 18 at the Kia Oval in London, England.
The summit meeting on the cricket pitch comes amid a fresh outbreak of tensions between India and Pakistan. Clashes along the Line of Control — the demarcation between India and Pakistan-controlled territories in the disputed, mountainous Kashmir region — have claimed several lives over the past week. On Thursday, two Pakistani soldiers were killed in an exchange of mortar and small arms fire along the LoC. Last Friday, India said that its soldiers intercepted and killed five militants who had cut through a fence on the LoC and were planning, India said, to carry out suicide attacks against Indian military forces there.
But even amidst the rising tensions, cricket fans in the two countries say that the rivalry has lost some of its ferocity in recent years. While India cricket has remained one of the dominant forces in the sport, Pakistan has seen its fortunes wane — at least partly due to the financial hit it endures from the lack of matches against India. Additionally, Pakistan has played only a few matches in its home country since a 2009 terrorist attack on a bus carrying players from the Sri Lanka team on their way to a Test match.
“There’s been a slight dip, definitely. The intensity of the fixture is no longer there, and the teams are not evenly matched either,” former Pakistan captain Aamir Sohail told the Al-Jazeera news network. “It’s a worrying sign. People are losing interest. If a fixture as big as Pakistan-India is losing its charm, the authorities need to look into this.”
[Featured Image By Michael Steele/Getty Images]