Amidst all the chaos, the despondency, and the bloodshed that festers this land, it is hard to come across moments and events that have the potential to unite our discordant national lives. Split between caustic divides, Pakistanis, for the most part, can be bundled into partisan buckets such as PTI supporters and PML-N supporters; Shias and Sunnis, Punjabis and Sindhis, conservatives and liberals. And there is no singular national issue (not even APS Peshawar, it seems, sadly) that holds the potential of uniting us all under one banner, if even for a fleeting moment. Except one: cricket, especially, a world cup match against India.

And so at this moment, at least for one day, it would be futile to delve upon partisan political hackery, or judicial overreach, or civil military imbalance, or even the scrooge of terrorism. This moment, today, belongs to cricket, and to all the hopes and dreams that our impoverished people associate with the willow and the leather.

Pakistan meets India, for the sixth time, in an ICC World Cup encounter, on Sunday! And, as though cursed by some ancient spell, in each of these clashes, we have come up short.

The first time that Team Green met its archrivals in a cricket world cup was during the fabled Cornered-Tigers campaign. It was 1992, and the venue was Sydney Cricket Ground. I distinctly remember the frenzy of that day, as any fifth-grader, at the time, would. Pakistan, led by the incomparable Imran Khan, was in the midst of suffering “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (Shakespeare). No one gave us much chance in winning the World Cup, but we had all hoped for the lesser trophy: that of beating India. It was Sachin Tendulkar’s first world cup, and the Little Master produced a gritty half century to drag India to a (what was then respectable) score of 216. It was gettable. Very gettable. Especially with the likes of Javed Miandad, Aamer Sohail, and Inzamam-ul-Haq in the team. Sadly, as has now become custom, Pakistani batting order crumbled, and was finally all-out for a score of 173.

And the wait, of beating India in a World Cup, was pushed back by four years.

In 1996, the awaited day gathered all to the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. Pakistan, this time, was defending World Champion. India batted first. Tendulkar and Sidhu got Indians off to a flying start. Sidhu made a 93, against a testing bowling attack, before Jadeja hammered 45 off 25 balls, bringing the Indian to a 287/8 at the close of their innings. This score, as impressive as it was back in the day, seemed no match for the opening pair of Aamir Sohail and Saeed Anwar, who decimated the Indian bowling attack in the opening overs to reach 113/0 in the 15 over. Tempers, on the field, were feverish pitch. Especially, in the case of hot-headed Aamir Sohail, who flagrantly thrashed the Indian pace bowlers, and made no secrets about his intention to Prasad. Divinity abhors arrogance. And just as soon as Aamir was done expressing his dominance over Prasad, his off-stump was uprooted. Pakistan slumped to 184/5, and never recovered.

And the wait continued…

Finally, it was our moment. The year was 1999, the venue was Manchester, and Pakistan seemed unstoppable. A team, the likes of which have never been seen in Pakistani cricket history before, or ever again, the great Wasim Akram and his men had it all: the steady aggression of Saeed Anwar, the calming dependability of Inzamam-ul-Haq, the irresistible fire-power of Razzaq and Afridi, the undoubtable genius of Saqlain Mushtaq, the reverse mastery of Waqar Younis, the non-negotiable pace of Shoaib Akhtar, and… the left-arm demi-God himself! There was no ground too big for Saeed Anwar not to clear it on one knee. No batsman so intrepid as to not tremble before Akhtar. And no wall so impenetrable as to stand the test of Wasim Akram. The Captain, high on his mastery, remarked that Pakistan viewed the India encounter as a “practice match”, since the team had already qualified for the Semi-finals. India made a miserly 227, which stood no chance against the Pakistani team. However, as divinity would have it, the curse struck again. And even a mediocrity like Prasad, took five wickets to slump Pakistan to 180 all-out.

And the wait continued…

It was 2003, Johannesburg, when the two teams met in the World Cup again. Saeed Anwar’s 101 had propelled Pakistan to a competitive 274. But, in reply, Sachin Tendulkar was a man possessed. From the first six to Shoaib Akhtar, over third-man, to the pristine cover-drive in Wasim Akram’s first over, it was arguably the best one-day innings from the best batsman ever to have played the game. Tendulkar’s 98 was stronger than any century made by an Indian in the World Cup. Pakistani score, at the end, did not pose much challenge.

And the wait continued…

Four years ago, in 2011, the venue was Mohali. Pakistan was meeting India at the archrival’s home turf, in the semi-finals, with leaders of both the nations cheering on from the stands. Tendulkar made a scratchy 85, shrouded in controversial circumstances, which included dropped catches and a plum DRS review going in his favor. Amidst (substantiated?) allegations of match-fixing, India’s 260, at the end, was 29 runs too much for Pakistani batting. Afridi, the captain, apologized to the Pakistani nation for the loss. But none of that was consolation for a grieving nation.

And the wait continued…

This wait, this agonizing journey of tears and trials, of soaring passions and subdued whispers, of dashed hopes and controversial decisions, has brought us to this Sunday. It has been 23 years since that first time when Imran Khan and Azhar-ud-Din stood together for the toss, in Sydney. Back in the same continent, wearing the same colors, the wait, of conquering India’s winning streak in the World Cup continues for another few hours.

For a nation bereaving the loss of school-children in Peshawar, amidst countless other atrocities, this is a moment of national unity and uplifting. Belief in that Most Merciful God, and in the prayers of millions of mothers across this land, compels me to prophesize that this 23-year curse will finally be broken, and the streak ends Sunday morning. And a new chapter – one of hope and optimism – is about to begin.

Go Green!