In the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, a player like Sachin Tendulkar spent a sleepless night before the match against Pakistan, such was the intensity of the rivalry. 11 years later, on the eve of the ICC World Twenty20 opening match against Pakistan, India skipper MS Dhoni cut a relaxed figure and even said that the intensity of the rivalry between the two countries had lessened in recent years.
"Well the intensity is there, of course. It's something that you can't really take away from the game irrespective of which opposition you are playing. It's always that India-Pakistan matches catch the imagination of people from either side. I feel it has mellowed down to some extent, whatever the reason may be, but you don't see many altercations on the field," said Dhoni in a pre-match press conference at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium yesterday.
"Growing up, we used to watch some of the last generation people when they were playing cricket, and it used to get quite tense. But I'm glad that it doesn't really happen anymore, because when you talk about promoting cricket and promoting it the right way, I think more often than not it's being played in the right spirit."
For Dhoni, it was much more important to perform well day in and day out in the tournament. "I think what's important is to do well in each and every game. In the last T20 World Cup we just lost one game in the qualifying rounds and we were not able to move to the knockout stages, so I think every game is crucial."
One of the battles within a battle will be Pakistan's bowlers taking on the strong Indian batting, particularly the likes of pacer Umar Gul and spinner Saeed Ajmal against someone like Virat Kohli. "Gul has been a fantastic bowler for them. I still remember the 2007 T20 World Cup also, when he was the one who would start bowling in the 11th or 12th over and continue till the death overs. Ajmal is a very good bowler -- he is someone who you cannot score freely against. The other bowlers also are quite dangerous, and at the same time they've got the batting line-up that can score very freely, so we'll be planning about the whole team, not really about individuals."
Dhoni comes into this tournament after a rare break, having sat out the Asia Cup because of injury. In doing so, he missed the most recent Indo-Pak bout and consequently the fireworks from Pakistan's most dangerous player Shahid Afridi, who hit two sixes in the last over to steal a win. "I frankly thought the second six he hit was going to the fielder, but it crossed the boundary," Dhoni said. However, India have reserves of power hitters too, not least the captain himself. Whether or not the rivalry is as intense as it once was, the stage is set for a thriller.