Every sports fan has unwritten scars imprinted on their heart. It could be a particular opposition or a particular country or if you're a South African fan, then multi-nation events.
For Indian fans though, the biggest scar on their soul at the moment is repeated defeats in ICC events by the "nice guys" of world cricket, New Zealand.
A generation has grown up since the Men in Blue last won against the Kiwis on the world stage. The last time they triumphed over the BlackCaps, social media didn't exist; Virat Kohli was a teenager, Sachin Tendulkar was the reigning king of world cricket and Australia were the reigning champions of the world.
Yep, 2003. That's how long it has been. Since then, India and New Zealand have met at T20 World Cups, World Test Championship finals, and semi-final of the Cricket World Cup, but every time, the Indian fans have been met with heartbreak.
IND vs NZ in ICC white-ball events since 2000:
Won by India-1
Won by New Zealand-5
The last 4 years have been particularly heartbreaking due to repeated setbacks when it mattered the most. It all started with THAT horror afternoon in Manchester in July 2019 when a high-flying Indian team and its fans were brought down to earth by the efficient Kiwis.
The dream was crushed with disdain, and the glum faces of players and fans alike still hurts to this day. Since then, things have gone downhill.
Two years later, New Zealand defeated the Indians in the inaugural World Test Championship final, and then proceeded to dump the Men in Blue out from the T20 World Cup.
Manchester 2019: The realization of our worst nightmare
The 2019 World Cup semi-final really was a massive heartbreak; akin to some of India's most heartbreaking defeats at global events in the past.
Imagine topping the league table after locking horns with 9 other teams, and then getting dumped after a bad passage of play. It was not as if Indian fans hadn't envisaged the mishap. Everyone had dreaded the day when our famed top-3 would fail and the middle-order would get exposed.
The 2019 semi-final loss to New Zealand isn't heartbreaking just because it was a knockout game, it was heartbreaking because our worst (but expected) nightmare was playing out right in front of our eyes. Nothing hurts more than seeing your worst fears take the shape of reality, and at the worst possible moment.
Add to it the fact that it turned out to be MS Dhoni's final international match, and Ravindra Jadeja's freakish knock ended up on the losing side of things just adds more pain to this already tragic tale.
And, of course, the helpless faces of two of our biggest modern-day superstars- Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma- from the balcony as the last rites of their dreams were being played out in front of millions, and it's just a perfect plot for a depressing flick.
So, even as Team India is flying in the current World Cup, there is an understandable uneasiness among the fans as the hosts get ready to lock horns with their bogey team at the picturesque Himachal Pradesh Cricket Stadium in Dharamsala.
Apart from it being a psychological battle for the Indian players, the game will also be a test of skills as the seam and swing of New Zealand bowlers will definitely come into play in Dharamsala.
To add to their issues, they will be playing with a new combination as seam-bowling all-rounder Hardik Pandya has been ruled out.
But, 2023 feels different for a variety of reasons
For starters, this team no longer depends on their top-3 to bail them out in every game. Post that heartbreak in 2019, India invested in Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, and KL Rahul to plug the holes in the middle-order.
And, in the very first game of this World Cup, it was on full display as Virat Kohli and KL Rahul rescued the home team to safe waters after they had been reduced for ⅔ by the Australian bowlers.
India may be faced with a similar situation tomorrow if they bat under lights as the likes of Matt Henry and Trent Boult will certainly get the ball to hoop around, but, as mentioned above, the India of 2023 is very different from that of 2019, as they now have the confidence of having escaped from such a woeful start in the recent past.
Having already conquered their fears of 'what if we are reduced to 5/3?' in this World Cup, this match is a perfect opportunity for the Indians to exorcise their demons against New Zealand prior to their possible meeting in the knockouts.
For that to happen, the Indians need to do the basics right, something that they have done really well in this World Cup.
New Zealand is a team which plays percentage cricket well, and if the opposition is caught napping, then they get all over them like a cheap suit.
The best thing that happened from India's perspective in the last game is that Virat Kohli was finally able to breach the 100-run barrier, which had eluded him in World Cups despite repeated half-centuries.
We have often seen in the past that whenever Virat breaches a barrier, it leads to a tsunami of runs, and that's the best thing that can happen to India as we approach the business end of the tournament.
But, more than his century, it's the circumstances which led to it, that showed the spirit of this team. KL Rahul denied singles so that Virat could complete his ton, and the excitement on the faces of the teammates after it eventually happened was a sight to behold.
A lot has been spoken, and written about it, but none of that matters because you could just see how much every member of the team enjoyed those moments. It showed that the team is united and relishing in each other, and when there is this sort of an atmosphere, it's easier to face herculean challenges.
Another thing that was noticeable in the last match was how the rest of the bowlers upped their game after Hardik's injury.
India certainly has a herculean challenge in Dharamsala; a challenge to conquer recent history and get rid of the baggage in conditions that are ideally suited to the opposition, but if ever there was an ideal time to nail it, that time is NOW.
Featured Image Credit: BCCI