Here, Indians and Pakistanis cheer each other!

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS,

London : Nearly 25,000 passionate Indian and Pakistani fans turned up for an exciting and noisy ICC Twenty20 warmup tie at the Oval cricket ground Wednesday, and guess what – not a single incident was reported.

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As their governments were locked in the latest exchange of words back home, Indian fans in Britain showed they were more than happy to enjoy a day’s cricket in peace with their Pakistani neighbours.

Pakistanis returned the compliment, as passionate and often-delirious supporters actually cheered the other side – every boundary, every wicket, every dot ball was greeted by waves of both the tricolour and the crescent moon.

Indeed, the only kind of riot on display Wednesday was one of colour, as swathes of blue and green – the national colours – packed the south London cricket ground.

Although the event was held amid tight security, unusually, authorities allowed Indians and Pakistanis mixed seating rather than separate them in the fashion of football matches.

Wednesday’s sights were a world away from those of the summer of 2001, when a Natwest series between Australia, England and Pakistan was marred by a series of pitch invasions by rowdy Pakistani supporters, leading to a walk-off by Australia, an injury to a match steward and England conceding a game they were on the point of losing.

With the threat of terrorism forever clouding cricketing ties between India and Pakistan, British police took unusually strong preventive steps Wednesday – 450 stewards manned the boundaries after police sniffer dogs cleared the grounds the night before.

The strong bonhomie among rival supporters was noted by cricketers as well as commentators.

“It was a brilliant performance from the whole team and the noise here was amazing,” said Indian captain M.S. Dhoni after his side pummelled Pakistan and registered an emphatic nine-wicket win.

India quickie Ishant Sharma said, “When you see the crowd in a warmup game, you really feel the pressure…. Both the sides feel the pressure.”

Former England skipper Mike Atherton added: “There will more important matches during this tournament, but unless these teams meet again, none will be accompanied with quite this level of fervour.

“It is easy to see why the ECB (the English cricket board) is desperate to host neutral Tests between these teams.”

Despite the intense rivalry of India-Pakistan matches, the International Cricket Council had designated the event a ‘Catch the Spirit’ match to raise funds for the victims of the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore March 3.

Indian and Pakistani fans Wednesday evening left no one in doubt that they had caught just the right spirit of cricket.