AHMEDABAD, India – Babar Azam's Pakistan look for their first ever World Cup win over India on Saturday in front of a record crowd expected to number around 120,000 fans who will overwhelmingly be backing Rohit Sharma's home side.
India and Pakistan are bitter adversaries and only play against each other in international tournaments due to longstanding political tensions.
Any meeting between them always raises fan interest with millions watching around the globe in a bonanza for broadcasters and sponsors.
Both teams remain unbeaten coming into the match at Ahmedabad’s Narendra Modi Stadium, named for the Indian prime minister.
Local officials told AFP the 132,000-capacity stadium would host around 115,000 to 120,000 fans with some seats lost due to a stage set up for a pre-game concert featuring a cast of Bollywood singers.
The number could be a record for any cricket match around the globe and will surpass the previous best of 104,859 which turned out to watch last year’s Indian Premier League final at the same venue.
Pakistan nationals were unable to secure India visas so only a handful of Pakistani fans, who have British and US passports, have turned up to watch the game.
Thousands of fans in blue Indian jerseys queued up to enter the stadium, which was already more than half full 90 minutes before the first ball was to be bowled at 0830 GMT.
“I never miss any India-Pakistan game and flew in especially for this,” Sunil Yadav, an Indian fan from London, told AFP.
“I wanted to experience this game at the world’s biggest stadium and it is awesome.”
This is Pakistan’s first match after their record World Cup chase of 345 against Sri Lanka, with Mohammad Rizwan scoring an unbeaten 131 and Abdullah Shafique making 113.
“I don’t focus on the past; I try to focus on the future,” Pakistan skipper Babar Azam told reporters when asked about India’s 7-0 winning record over their rivals in World Cup games.
“Such records are made to be broken.”
A Pakistan team hasn’t played in India since 2016 and only two of their 15-man squad had ever been in the country before the World Cup.
Security concerns saw Saturday’s match brought forward a day from its original date, which coincided with a major Hindu festival in the city.
‘Good game of cricket’
Authorities are deploying 11,000 police officers to keep order — around one for every 11 spectators.
India came into the World Cup as the top-ranked ODI team and lived up to the billing of favourites with a six-wicket win over five-time winners Australia.
They are fresh from their eight-wicket thrashing of Afghanistan after skipper Rohit Sharma smashed a record seventh World Cup century on Wednesday.
“Cannot get bigger than this, fantastic atmosphere,” Rohit said at the toss on Saturday as the home crowd roared.
“Sure lots of us are going to experience something really extraordinary.”
Pakistan have never won against India in the World Cup in their seven outings since 1992.
Their previous loss was by 89 runs in a rain-hit league match of the 2019 edition in Manchester.
India remain behind in their overall ODI head-to-heads against Pakistan with 56 wins and 73 losses but have clearly been the stronger team in recent meetings.
Rohit’s men hammered Pakistan by 228 runs in their Asia Cup Super Four clash last month and went on to win the regional tournament.
Top Indian batsmen have been among the runs in the two victories at the World Cup so far with Virat Kohli hitting 85 and KL Rahul an unbeaten 97 against Australia.
Kohli then made an undefeated 55 in the win over Afghanistan with Rohit hitting 131, a record seventh World Cup century.
Journalists from Pakistan have arrived in India for the match after delays in their visa approvals saw them miss the team’s opening two games.
For Saturday’s game, Shubman Gill returns to the India team in place of Ishan Kishan after recovering from dengue fever. Pakistan are unchanged.