How Maradona mania can explain India-Pakistan madness

When Wahab yorked local lad Yuvraj (1:56)

The Pakistan quick took five-wickets against India in the 2011 World Cup semi-final in Mohali (1:56)

In 2011, I covered my first India v Pakistan World Cup match. I was ESPNcricinfo's Correspondent No. 3 in Mohali, and did not have a seat in the press box. I did get a ticket, though. And that helped make it one of the best experiences of my life. Sitting amid the fans, the cacophony and the delirium, riding the swing of emotions, which would rise to ecstasy and then shift to tension, the sort of up and down no alcohol or drug can ever give you.

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Sitting in the same stand in Mohali, behind me in a corner, was Wahab Riaz's family. I only realised who they were when Wahab tossed a few bottles of water to them. We spoke. Annie, Wahab's sister, agreed that sitting in the crowd, feeling the tension, was unique, something she would not barter for an air-conditioned seat. Not that there was one - all prime real estate had been taken up by the premiers of the two countries, their entourages, and other worthies.

Chandigarh was abuzz even two days before that semi-final. The Pakistanis were welcomed with open arms, there was a sense of bonhomie, real bonhomie. It was beautiful.

In 2013 and 2017, I would watch, and report on, more India-Pakistan matches, all in the UK. Two of the three matches were played in Birmingham and one, the 2017 Champions Trophy final, at The Oval. That final was terrific for its cricket, mainly the supreme artistry of Mohammad Amir with the new ball. A record audience followed that match. In London, Birmingham, Manchester and Bradford, Pakistan fans went berserk. You could see just how much the result meant to them.

Two years down the line, you would expect that needle to have only become sharper, not to forget the recent - or renewed - political tensions between the two countries.

In Manchester on Friday evening, Saif, a young Afghan man born in Peshawar, said he wanted good cricket, but also wanted the rhetoric by the media in both countries to stop. On Saturday afternoon, an ICC volunteer - a Pakistan fan - cheered every Pakistan player and support staffer coming out of the indoor training centre. "We will win. We will win," he screamed. When he spotted Amir getting into the team bus to go back to the hotel, the volunteer burst out cheerily: "Tomorrow a five-for." Amir smiled and gave him a thumbs-up. All part of the massive build-up.

These emotions will only gather momentum on Sunday morning as fans from the two countries pour in to Old Trafford by the thousands. The stands will be painted in the Pakistani green and the Indian blue. Tendulkar's No. 10 will mix with Afridi's No. 10.

On Friday evening, I watched another No. 10: Asif Kapadia's compelling docu-film Maradona. Kapadia's captured not just Maradona's ridiculously fantastic skills with the ball, but also his personality - smart, cheeky, vulnerable. Maradona confesses he was no saint. But there are not many bigger gods than Maradona in football.

As I walked outside into the Manchester evening drizzle with the weekend party spots buzzing, what ran through my mind was Antonio Pinto's haunting music and the words spoken by Maradona as he walks up the tunnel to step out in the heaving San Paulo Stadium in Napoli to chants of "Diego, Diego, Diego."

"When you are on the pitch, life goes away. Everything goes away," he says.

On Sunday, when Virat Kohli and Sarfaraz Ahmed lead the Indian and Pakistani teams out for their national anthems, emotions at Old Trafford and the Indian subcontinent - and in groups of people from the two countries elsewhere in the world - will hit fever pitch. But, a few minutes later, life goes away, everything goes away. It will be time for cricket, and nothing else.