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On Sunday, Heathrow is expected to be teeming with Indian and Pakistani jerseys. Mombasa, Jamaica, California and Dubai are just some of the many far-flung places in the world from where fans will be flying into London directly for the final.
Some of them had made the trip two weeks ago when the two countries met in a league encounter at Birmingham and then flown home. But now, despite tickets for the match at The Oval selling at anywhere between 400 to a staggering 1000 pounds in the black market, they are on their way back.
It is fantasy cricket time after all, India versus Pakistan in the final of a Champions Trophy. It’s amazing that in the 42 years — starting with the first World Cup in 1975 — that ICC has organised world events for 50-over cricket, this dream finale has always eluded them.
They have come close on occasions. Pakistan lost to West Indies in the 1983 semifinals when India won the World Cup. Both teams lost their semifinals in the next edition and Pakistan fell one step short again at the ICC Knockout — as Champions Trophy was known then — in 2000. And the two teams crossed paths in the semifinals of the 2011 World Cup, when India won it for a second time.
Not many would have thought this edition of the Champions Trophy would end the long wait, especially on the back of how comprehensively India humbled their arch rivals two Sundays ago at Edgbaston. But while India have, save the upset against Sri Lanka, cruised into the final as defending champions, Pakistan have defied all expectations with exceptional cricket.
No wonder, everyone wants to be there for the mother of all battles, now with a trophy at stake. It’s not just the average fan who’s pulling all stops to be at the Oval before 10.30 am on Sunday morning. It’s learnt that BCCI officials spent most of Friday and Saturday haggling with ICC organisers for extra tickets with a number of luminaries from the political and Bollywood world expected to turn up.
In a coincidence, Virat Kohli and Sarfraz Ahmed will not be the only captains leading their respective sides out for an India-Pakistan sporting contest, or “war” as fans would prefer calling it, in London on Sunday. Some 9.8 miles north of the Oval, the two countries will be facing each other in the Hockey World League (HWL) semifinal at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis centre, around the time the second innings of the final reaches the halfway mark. And contrastingly, while fans are ready to pay exorbitant prices to catch a piece of the cricket, those with tickets for the hockey are trying to dispose them off.
“I bought mine for just 10 pounds and I’m ready to give it to anyone even if he pays me 5 quid. All I want is a ticket for the Champions Trophy final,” said an Indian fan, who turned up outside The Oval while the team went through their routine on the eve of the match.
Despite the enormity of the occasion, and the fanfare around it, the two teams tried to play it down, Kohli in particular. “As the tournament goes on, at some point we will reach the final stage. We will still take it as another match. We haven’t spoken about this game in any different way. We have practised the same way from the first day we came here. There’s no over-excitement,” the Indian captain said.
Mickey Arthur, the Pakistan coach, sounded more realistic in how he expected his team to react to the moment they would have dreamt about all their lives. “We finished our preparation today with a good chat just before we came to the ground. The guys are under no illusion as to what the expectation is on them, but they are excited,” he said. And that expectation from the thousands who will turn up at the Oval and the millions back home and around the world, as the ICC prepares for its cricketing El Dorado, will be the same — win at all costs.