Rameez Raja, a former Pakistan captain, played when India-Pakistan rivalry was at its peak. With fans from both countries not willing to settle for anything but victory, one performance was enough to turn an individual into a hero or villain forever.
Agreeing that it's no longer a matter of life and death, Raja feels an India-Pakistan contest is still a make-or-break opportunity for players and the rivalry could be one up on the Ashes if positioned properly.
What's riding on this series?
It's serves a two-fold purpose. Not only is it the resumption of cricketing ties, it will also help lower political temperatures. We all know what happened during and after India's tour of Pakistan in 2004. It was the best-ever series on the field and off it.
Are frequent interruptions hurting Indo-Pak cricket?
Cricket serves as a political tool too. The political aspect enhances its value. But politics should not hurt or overshadow cricket. India-Pakistan series need to be held at regular intervals and should be given precedence over all other series, just like the Ashes between England and Australia.
But does India-Pakistan rivalry match up to the Ashes now?
Absolutely! You just need to position it properly on the annual calendar, it has great value. You need to schedule it better, can't have it once in fourfive years and that too a few T20s and ODIs. People are so emotionally attached to it, the contest is simple awesome… for me, it has definitely more value than the Ashes. This could bring back the crowd to Test cricket.
But does the contest have the same intensity as, say, a decade back? Will this series create the same interest?
It remains to be seen but you can't ignore an India-Pak contest, that's for certain. It has lot of value and will definitely attract eyeballs. I am not too sure if people are geared up for it after the England series. But it's a great contest and will definitely be watched.
India have a thriving rivalry with Australia and South Africa? Won't that undermine the India-Pak rivalry?
Absolutely not. There's something unique to this rivalry, in terms of emotional attachment, political situation and individual desires that cannot be replaced.
Players feel challenged, both emotionally and skill wise, when they take the field and want to give their best. It's a make-or-mar opportunity for them for what they do here is going to stay in collective memories for a long, long time.
Isn't the pressure on players too much?
You can't run away from pressure at the international level. It all boils down to how you take it. Good players take it positively, while the not-so-good wilt under it. It separates the men from the boys. From the buzz in cricketing circles, I can tell you that the 'do-or-die' pressure of the past has definitely reduced but there's always the pressure to perform.
The larger than life characters have disappeared from Pakistan cricket?
We may not have an Imran (Khan) or a Javed (Miandad), but the team has done well collectively. Every team goes through this cycle. The spot-fixing saga jolted the Pakistan board into action and they have learnt their lessons. Corrective measures are being taken.
Can Pakistan again become the force they were?
We have been through tough times in the last three-four years. There hasn't been any top-level cricket at home in this while. But it hasn't squeezed our passion for the game and spirit. Kids still play with a lot of passion and want to play for Pakistan.