It was a Saturday, 1 March 2003, when we stepped into that restaurant-bar-circus with a schizophrenic ambience. This place in Andheri East, Mumbai, was new; my friend had been invited over to watch the India-Pakistan match and he dragged me along—not reluctantly, I must admit. 

This was the 50-over World Cup in South Africa and the place was packed with people—mostly men—and musicians. It was a large hall, with unbelievably high ceilings—tied above us was a wall-to-wall netting and a trapeze set up on top of that. Trapeze artists were supposed to perform above our heads as the evening wore on. 

I can’t remember the name of the place but the match was screened on these gigantic screens and the commentary blasted over loudspeakers. The first half of the match was subdued, because Saeed Anwar scored a century and Pakistan made a decent 273—in pre-T20 days, this was a commendable total. 

The second innings was a deafening blur because Sachin Tendulkar started swatting Shoaib Akhtar, then the world’s fastest bowler, and Waqar Younis, with the kind of audacious freedom which made you double check what you were drinking. This was cue enough for the drummers to get going, for the trapeze performers to swing on the ropes above. Though it took the calm Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh to finish the match, we left the place buzzing with excitement. 

Of course, I spent a part of the evening worrying that one of the swinging ladies or gents above was going to crash through the net on my head—or worse on my food—but they were all quite professional. 

That remains my all-time favourite Tendulkar innings in limited overs cricket—made more memorable by the acrobats. His recent biopic, Sachin: A Billion Dreams, reminded me of the innings because it had some clips from the match. Though the film shied away from dealing with any of the remotely uncomfortable situations of his life and career—like Vinod Kambli or Dravid’s declaration with Tendulkar batting on 194—I was glad to see a part of that 2003 innings and relive a memory from a distant past. 

It remains one of my favourite India-Pakistan matches too unless things change on Sunday, 4 June, when they play again—in the Champions Trophy in Birmingham, England. 

Matches between these two countries have always had an edge for reasons we all know, but have the dynamics of India-Pakistan contests changed over time? Are more people watching them—obviously yes, because populations have increased as have access to TV and internet—but proportionately? 

For one, organizers of all major cricket tournaments realized a long time ago that India and Pakistan must play each other in a multi-nation tournament—in fact, their match must be in the group stages (so they are guaranteed to play) and not left to the knockout rounds (in case one of them gets booted off earlier). Some of us believe that a tournament breaks even financially with just this one match. 

There are fewer matches between the teams due to political reasons—you tend to value something more when you have less of it. 

And then, India’s performance has improved every passing decade, as Kunal Singh wrote in Mint, from 33.33% (1974-89) to 66.67% (2010-present). More wins means more fans—as any television channel will tell you. 

Finally, Pakistan is such an unpredictable team that it makes most opponents a bit nervous and spectators intrigued. They can be the world’s best and worst team on the same day at different points of time—it is like watching a comedy and a horror simultaneously. 

Out of curiosity, I checked the tickets online for this match many weeks ago—they were sold out, though the tickets to the final were available still. 

“Predictably, there was huge demand for the India v Pakistan, England v Australia and the Champions Trophy final at The Oval on June 18— all of which were oversubscribed across every price band," the ICC said in a press release. 

Given that cricket’s business comes predominantly from the subcontinent, it’s not really surprising that the ICC World Cup 2015 India-Pakistan match was the most tweeted international cricket match ever, with 1.7 million tweets. According to data provided by Twitter, the last time the two sides met—in the 2016 ICC World T20—the number of tweets were more than 1.12 million, the most for a T20 international. 

Aneesh Madani, head of sports partnerships (India and south-east Asia), Twitter, told me that over last five years, if you consider the NBA (National Basketball Association) finals, the official hashtag grew over seven times between 2012 and 2016. An India-Pakistan match, between the 2012 World T20 to 2016 World T20, grew 11 times. 

He explains that the actual numbers cannot be compared to other sports because in most other sports there is a continuous engagement (most football or basketball leagues run for several months) while this is a one-off match. Also, many other sports are faster paced, so invite more engagement from fans. 

(The single most tweeted event is supposed to be the Brazil-Germany Fifa World Cup semifinal in 2014, with an estimated 35 million tweets.) 

So what are the predictions for the upcoming encounter? Historically, India has dominated Pakistan in ICC tournaments, winning all World Cup encounters. But their only two losses in ICC tournaments have come in the Champions Trophy. Pakistan has also won more ODIs between the two countries—72 to 51—according to data from espncricinfo.com. 

I would love to once again sit in a venue where I can see the ball flying on screen and people flying above me. 

Letter From... is Mint on Sunday’s antidote to boring editor’s columns. Each week, one of our editors—Sidin Vadukut in London and Arun Janardhan in Mumbai—will send dispatches on places, people and institutions that are worth ruminating about on the weekend. 

Comments are welcome at feedback@livemint.com

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