Melbourne- There had already been four editions of the World Cup by the time the draw threw India and Pakistan together. That game, at the Sydney Cricket Ground in March 1992, represented something of a cricketing changing of the guard. Javed Miandad was the wily old fox, the consummate scrapper who had broken Indian hearts with a last-ball six in Sharjah nearly six years earlier. Sachin Tendulkar was the 18-year-old whippersnapper who had already scored a Test century at the famous old ground.

That day Tendulkar stroked an unbeaten 54 off 62 balls and then bowled a 10-over spell that included the vital wicket of the well-set Aamer Sohail. Miandad laboured through 110 balls for his 40 before a Javagal Srinath yorker ended the misery. India won by 43 runs. Pakistan would go on to win the tournament.

A generation later the two teams face each other on Sunday for the sixth time in a World Cup, at the Adelaide Oval, 1,200km to the west. Tendulkar, who took over from Miandad as the premier Asian batsman, never lost a World Cup match against Pakistan and was man of the match in three of them. A highlights reel of the rivalry between the two sides would feature a great deal of Tendulkar footage, most notably the uppercut six over backward point off Shoaib Akhtar at Centurion in 2003. He made 98 from 75 balls then. There are some who think he never played better in coloured clothes.

The previous World Cup encounter between the two, at Old Trafford in 1999, had been played in the shadow of the conflict in Kargil. By 2003 diplomatic relations were so bad that the two countries had not played any cricket against each other for almost three years. Tendulkar once admitted he had not slept properly for nearly a fortnight before the Centurion game. In Playing It My Way, his autobiography, he wrote: “The ground was buzzing hours before the match. It was sport at its best. This is why I played cricket, to be out in the middle for my team, on the world’s biggest cricketing stage, against India’s arch-rival.”

Some of Indian cricket’s biggest names have contributed to the five World Cup victories. Kapil Dev had a cameo and wickets in 1992. In 1996, when India took 40 off Waqar Younis’s final two overs with Ajay Jadeja smashing 45 from 25 balls, Anil Kumble took three for 48. Rahul Dravid had vital knocks in 1999 and 2003 and Virender Sehwag’s 25-ball 38 gave the 2011 semi-final in Mohali an electrifying start.

For Pakistan the importance of the game seems to have had an inhibiting effect. Miandad was throwing punches from memory in 1992 and 1996, Waqar and Wasim Akram never scythed through the order and Shoaib was disassembled in 2003. There was no greater example of those gremlins in the mind than 1996 when Sohail crunched his way to 55 from 45 balls before a slanging match with Venkatesh Prasad led to an unsightly heave and splayed stumps.

Sporting rivalries are always about numbers, some much more important than others. Pakistan have won 72 ODIs to India’s 50, much like Juventus’s 30 Serie A titles in comparison with Milan’s 18. But as Indian fans never get tired of repeating, the scoreline on the biggest stage is 5-0 (Milan have seven European Cups to Juve’s two).

That stranglehold goes back to a time before three of the players who might feature on Sunday – Axar Patel, Ahmad Shahzad and Ehsan Adil – were born. Given the disarray that Indian cricket finds itself in, this might be Pakistan’s best opportunity to end a jinx that evokes as much pain as the Curse of the Bambino.

Shahzad, struck on the arm during practice on Friday, is a key player. If he can get Pakistan off to a flyer against an Indian attack that has leaked runs recently, it would give Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq the time to play themselves in. Umar Akmal and Sarfraz Ahmed are also more than capable of moving a game along, as is Shahid Afridi who has never produced his best against India in the big games.

For India the key man is Virat Kohli, Tendulkar’s successor as batting idol. After a slump in form in the recent tri-series, following a run of four hundreds in four Tests, Kohli went to a spa near Adelaide to unwind and meditate. As many as 19 of his 21 ODI hundreds have resulted in Indian wins and, if Pakistan do not get him early, they might have to contemplate four more years of hurt.

Neither team is blessed on the bowling front. Pakistan are missing the off-spin of Saeed Ajmal while India have yet to find an adequate replacement for Zaheer Khan. The game-changer could well be the pace and bounce generated by the gigantic Mohammad Irfan. Kohli had support staff bowl at him from on top of a stool to prepare for the challenge and that tussle could decide who takes home bragging rights from a rivalry more intense than any other.