Champions Trophy 2017: India v Pakistan - the biggest match in sport?

Pakistan captain Sarfaz Ahmed (L) and his Indian counterpart Virat Kholi (R)
Pakistan captain Sarfaz Ahmed (left) and Indian counterpart Virat Kholi face a big occasion on Sunday

"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.

On Sunday, Edgbaston will host India v Pakistan in the Champions Trophy group stage.

If previous contests are to go by, more than a billion fans from all over the world, both Pakistan and Indian natives and those with heritage from those countries, will turn their attention to the West Midlands.

Their last 50-over meeting was in the 2015 World Cup in Australia, when India ran out comfortable winners.

Asif Iqbal
All-rounder Asif Iqbal represented Pakistan in 58 Tests and 10 ODI's between 1964 and 1980

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."

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Burning effigies

India v Pakistan is a rivalry which has evolved from being solely about borders and political bragging rights to one where cricketing supremacy is a major source of pride.

For those living on the sub-continent, however, passion can turn into an obsession - and one often taken too far.

It is not uncommon for fans to burn effigies and hold mock funerals of their own players after a loss.

Indian fans burn posters and an effigy of the Indian cricket team following the team's loss against Sri Lanka in the 2007 World Cup
India fans burn posters and an effigy of the national cricket team following the team's loss against Sri Lanka in the 2007 World Cup

Iqbal says this behaviour is not just limited to matches between India and Pakistan.

"The fans get frustrated because they have so much hope and expectations they don't accept the team that won had played the better cricket," he said.

"It's important to mention that when India or Pakistan visit any other country and perform poorly, they get the same reaction."

'India have moved on from worrying about a half-dead horse'

It clearly matters to the fans, but what about the players?

India have had the upper hand in meetings between the two sides in recent years and their former opening batsman Aakash Chopra believes the rivalry has diminished from his country's perspective - because they always win.

Speaking to BBC Sport, Chopra said: "The players don't lose sleep over this match with Pakistan. Indian cricketers have become far more relaxed, there's no more over-the-top pressure when playing Pakistan.

"As a country, we have evolved. There was a moment when beating Pakistan was a matter of life and death and asserting your superiority as a nation.

"Pakistan legends have also resigned [themselves] to the fact that they aren't the same team anymore. Once you know you are flogging a half dead horse you don't really expect to win anything, so what's the point in having a rivalry which only has one outcome?"

Aakash Chopra
Aakash Chopra played in 10 Test matches for India and has also featured in the Indian Premier League

'I was friends with the Indian players… except Gautam Gambhir'

Scratch a little below the surface and the mutual respect between the two teams is clear.

They, after all, share many cultural experiences and norms; languages, food, clothing. And they enjoy each other's company - most of the time.

Iqbal said: "There used to be private parties. If India were touring the players would come to my house and have dinner. There were a lot of social activities."

Shahid Afridi

The recently retired Pakistan all-rounder Shahid Afridi, 37, echoed Iqbal's sentiments.

"The players get along very well. Of course, there are exceptions like Gautam Gambhir, who dare I say isn't the friendliest - we are unlikely to be found together at a coffee shop anytime soon," he said.

"But I have enjoyed excellent relationships with Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh. The three are some of my best mates."

And India's Chopra classes ex-Pakistan fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar as one of his closest friends.

"We chat often, I was the first to know his son's name," he revealed.

A money-maker for Birmingham

It is estimated by Marketing Birmingham that this match alone will be worth more than £5m to the city's economy.

There is a diverse South Asian community in Birmingham and a match of this stature is creating a buzz in the West Midlands.

Edgbaston last hosted India v Pakistan at the 2013 Champions Trophy.
Edgbaston last hosted India v Pakistan at the 2013 Champions Trophy

Gulfraz Riaz, chairman of the National Asian Cricket Council, a body which champions the voice of South Asian recreational cricketers in the United Kingdom, says multicultural Birmingham is an ideal place to host this fixture.

"If you drive round the city you see [Sikh] gurdwaras, Hindu temples, [Muslim] mosques, this match will encourage the two sets of communities to come together," he said.

"The catchment is good too. Leicester isn't too far away and that's predominantly very much an Indian hub.

"Geographically it's a great place to watch this game."

'99% of fans want a Test match. The other 1% are politicians'

India v Pakistan

Political tension means the two teams tend to only meet in ICC-organised major tournaments, such as the Champions Trophy, the World Cup and the World Twenty20. It is also 10 years since they last played a Test series.

Iqbal said: "If you ask a common man in India or Pakistan, 'would you like to see the other team visit your country?' you would get 99% who want to see it. The other 1% would be the politicians."

Unfortunately, for both fans and neutral cricket aficionados, it seems we are still a way off seeing a Test series between the two great rivals any time soon.

The form book

Bookmakers have made India strong favourites for Sunday's match.

But Iqbal thinks the form book goes out of the window in limited-overs cricket, saying: "The team that plays well on the day wins, not necessarily the best team. To me, it's a 50-50 opportunity."

Chopra is more definite in his prediction. "India is definitely better placed. Logic says they will win," he said.

India v Pakistan

From the memory box

Some of the Indian and Pakistan players may be best buddies off the field, but history tells us that friendships can easily be forgotten when inside the boundary rope.

These confrontational moments from the past should whet your appetite for Sunday.

Javed Mindad v Kiran More - World Cup, Sydney, March 4 1992

Javed Miandad (right) with captain Imran Khan (left)
Javed Miandad (right) with Wasim Akram (left) celebrating as Pakistan beat England to win the 1992 World Cup

Miandad was both an outspoken cricketer and gifted batsman in equal measure. En route to Pakistan lifting the 1992 World Cup, he got caught up in a spat with India wicketkeeper More. Incensed at More's excessive appealing, Miandad leapt high in the air during an exaggerated imitation of his opponent. Gentlemanly? Perhaps not. Hilarious? Absolutely.

Shahid Afridi v Gautam Gambhir - Pakistan tour of India, 3rd ODI, Kanpur, November 11, 2007

Shahid Afridi v Gautam Gambhir
Shahid Afridi and Gautam Gambhir had to be separated during Pakistan's tour of India in 2007

Now we know why Afridi doesn't consider Gautam Gambhir a friend. This one is simple: Gambhir was running between the wickets and collided with the Pakistan all-rounder. With their egos bruised more than their bodies, they squared up and exchanged some unpleasantries before the umpires intervened.

Harbhajan Singh v Shoaib Akhtar - Asia Cup, Dambulla, June 19, 2010

Harbhajan Singh celebrates
Harbhajan Singh celebrates in the direction of Shoaib Akhtar after hitting a six to win India the match

It's a tight game in the Asia Cup. Penultimate over, Shoaib throws a few verbal jabs at Harbhajan. We now go to the final over. Harbhajan on strike facing fresh-faced teenager Mohammad Amir, three runs needed off the final two balls… six.

India win. But that's not enough for a pumped up Harbhajan who makes sure to let Shoaib know exactly how he feels with a pumped up celebration pointedly aimed in the direction of the Rawalpindi Express.

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