It is said that the tension in the air during an India-Pakistan hockey match is so thick that it can be sliced with a knife. And as the traditional hockey rivals oil their sticks for yet another battle royale, this time at the Incheon Asian Games today, who else to better describe this than former India captain Dhanraj Pillay?
"The excitement, nervousness, call it whatever you want, before playing Pakistan, kicks in as early as dinner time the previous night. Yaha raat ka khana hazam hua, waha tension shuru (tension begins as soon as the food is digested).
Both countries are extremely passionate about their hockey and the intense on-field show is a result of that," Pillay, who led India to its last Asian Games gold, at Bangkok 1998, told mid-day yesterday.
The mercurial forward, who has featured in four Olympics, four World Cups, four Champions Trophies and four Asian Games, felt that though India hold the edge today, the experience factor in this Pakistan line-up cannot be taken lightly.
"We have a good team, with some good youngsters alongwith experienced players like (skipper) Sardar Singh, drag-flicker Raghunath, etc, but Pakistan also have veterans in Shakeel Abbasi (246 caps), Muhammad Imran (216 caps) and Muhammad Waqas (200 caps) among others.
India captain Sadar Singh (right) and Pakistan veteran Shakeel Abbasi will play crucial roles in today's Asiad clash. Pic/Getty Images
In modern hockey, a split-second move, set-up by a seasoned player, often proves to be the downfall of teams lacking experience," warned the 46-year-old Air India chief coach, who is currently prepping his team for the business end of the Mumbai Hockey Association Ltd's Super League.
Earlier in the tournament, India have beaten Sri Lanka 8-0 and Oman by 7-0. Today's losing team could earn second place in Pool B, meaning they could face Asian giants South Korea, who are most likely to top Pool A, in the semi-finals. Pillay, however, insisted that Sardar & Co should not go into today's match thinking about their pool position.
"We should only have one agenda today and that is to beat Pakistan, everything else will automatically fall into place thereafter," he said. And as for the scoreline, Pillay sounded confident in his prediction. "India should win 3-2 or 4-3," he signed off.