It was the biggest game of the World Cup. It was the one fans have been waiting for. More than a billion people all over the planet were watching it. And what did Pakistani do?
Yes, I’m talking about Old Trafford. It was a wet Sunday but thousands had gathered around the iconic stadium for the Pakistan-India World Cup match. The atmosphere was electric. Pakistan and Indian fans had taken over the entire area. They were everywhere. Before the teams came face-to-face, an encounter of a different kind was taking place…
Pakistani fans were chanting, “Pakistan zindabad”, “Jeetay ga bhai jeetay ga Pakistan jeetay ga”. The Indians were chanting their favourite slogans. The Indians might have outnumbered them, but Pakistanis were equally loud and vocal.
As I took photographs of the fans I saw a familiar face in the crowd. It was Dr Nasim Ashraf, the former chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). He was dressed in green, like most of the Pakistani fans. It took me a few seconds to recognise him. We greeted each other. He hoped the wet weather wouldn’t affect the game. He also hoped Pakistan would do well in the match.
As I walked towards the entrance, Pakistani and Indian fans continued to be engaged in a verbal battle; but in a friendly manner. And that was welcomed by a host of police officials all around the place. I have been visiting England regularly to cover sporting events since 1990s but I’d never seen so many security officials deployed for a single match.
It was not just a match. There were more than 700,000 ticket applications for that particular game. The problem was that Old Trafford could only house a little more than 25,000 even after the installation of a gigantic temporary stand for the World Cup games.
The local administration knew that there would be thousands of fans without tickets that would be at Old Trafford on June 16, hoping to find a way to get in. To avoid any untoward incident, hundreds of extra security officials were deployed for the smooth running of the game.
While the local administration was focusing on the security, the rest of the world was wondering whether the wet English weather would play spoilsport. It did, however, for only a bit, and it couldn’t stop the rampaging Indians from running away with an 89-run victory. By doing that the Indians maintained their unblemished World Cup record against Pakistan.
While the Indian fans were ecstatic, their Pakistani counterparts were heartbroken. They couldn’t believe their team had capitulated without even putting up a decent fight.
Now, the Pakistani cricket fans are highly emotional. They put the Pakistani players on the pedestal but do not hesitate to disgrace them whenever they produce the sort of result they produced at Old Trafford on that brutal Sunday.
After the game, I was sent some videos by friends sitting in the stands, that showed fans hurling abuses at the Pakistani players soon after the loss. “Fittay moo, fittay moo,” one particularly enraged Pakistani fan continued to shout as the Pakistani players climbed the stairs back to the dressing room after the presentation ceremony. Sarfraz Ahmed, the Pakistani captain who was hailed as a national hero after leading the team to a stunning victory against India in the ICC Champions Trophy in England two years ago, was abused by a young fan at a shopping mall in London. He had to later apologise for his poor behaviour.
But what can you do?
Looking back, the real party for the Indian and Pakistani cricket fans actually began on the eve of the match, over some sizzling desi food. The desis love the food in England. Because for most of them, the best food in England is desi food.
And the centre of England’s desi food empire is a stretch of road in south Manchester. Called the ‘Curry Mile’, it’s a part of Wilmslow Road running through the centre of Rusholme, that has a number of desi joints.
I’m not really a desi food fan but I was convinced by some enthusiast to visit one of the Pakistani joints there an evening before the Pakistan-India match. A battle of fans was being fought on the Curry Mile as both Indian and Pakistani fans turned up in big numbers. The road was jammed and almost all the restaurants were full. “Saturday nights are always busy but not like this. What can you do? Tomorrow Pakistan is playing India in a World Cup match. The entire world is here,” says one waiter.
We were lucky that he was a cricket buff. So we just had to wait for less than an hour for our food. The tandoori chicken was delicious and so was the combo of papadum and a wide variety of chutneys and raitas. But the starters turned out to be the high point of the dinner. Lamb balti and chicken karahi were fine but nihari, supposed to be the restaurant’s signature dish, was a disappointment. But our cricket-loving waiter made up for it with piping hot jalebis.
It was almost mid-night when I walked out looking for my cabbie but the Curry Mile was still a scene of a roadside party. Wilmslow Road was still jammed. I decided to walk towards the darker side of the road hoping that there would be less traffic. Fans, most of them Pakistanis, continued to beat the drums to inspire the Pakistani players. They were, unfortunately, in for a major disappointment.