Getting up with the early birds to watch cricket is not something that would even bear thinking about on a normal weekend. But this is India v Pakistan at Edgbaston.
There is more chance of seeing Lord Lucan in a hammock at a bus stop in Notting Hill than watching one of these rare cricketing confrontations live. Tickets tend to sell out in record time, then are only available at extortionate rates thereafter.
In 30 years of watching cricket, I have never seen an episode of this sporting battle live. With Pakistani parentage, my loyalty was with the green team, but one cannot help admire the Indian team for their spirit – mind you their batting isn’t too dilapidated either.
Heading North on the M1 is not the most inspiring of journeys, but Saturday morning was decorated with so many Pakistani and Indian flags being waved from rear passenger windows in the fast lane, one could almost assume some major foreign dignitary going by (though I don’t think many at the G8 in Northern Ireland will be wearing replica cricket shirts. The closer to Birmingham, the more Green and Blue shirts became visible.
By the ground it was more akin to Lahore or Mumbai than to Moseley – though not as warm. The atmosphere outside Edgbaston was unlike anything I have ever experienced; Ashes games, one-day county finals – nothing compares to the intensity here. This for the fans is life and death, the chance to take bragging rights – and opportunity to get one over the old geographical neighbour for both sides.
Even though Pakistan had already been eliminated from the Champion’s Trophy, beating India would mean more than actually winning the title – and the same would go for India. There are over a billion people watching and tuning in on television sets and handheld transistor radios in the back streets of Kolkata and Karachi.
Everything in the subcontinent would have come to a standstill, though in the past the result of this particular fixture has been known to cause border skirmishes on the disputed Kashmir line of control. I doubt even England or Australia would resort to launching intercontinental ballistic missiles at each other due to the result of a cricket match – though Douglas Jardine vs Don Bradman in the 1932 Bodyline series came close.
The noise inside Edgbaston was almost deafening, and unlike football stadiums, there was no segregation. All the fans were mixing with nothing more pointed than friendly repartee. If politicians of either country might take note these two grand rivals could play in front of their own cricket-hungry nations on a more regular basis.
Shame the match itself was a bit of let-down thanks to the constant rain delays. Pakistan got off to good start, but lost all momentum during the rain breaks, exposing probably the worst batting in international cricket at the present. The Indian batsmen guided their team home to a comfortable victory via Duckworth and Lewis, losing only two wickets of their formidable batting line up.
But this was more about sport bringing nations together, so it is not always the winning or losing that matters. I for one enjoyed the atmosphere more than any match I have been to in 30 years of watching the game. I don’t think I have ever witnessed the Pakistan and Indian populace integrate with each other more than I did here at Edgbaston.
Pakistan are now flying home to rotten tomatoes – according to one Pakistani journalist here – whilst India are now firm favourites to win the trophy and can expect garlands upon getting home.