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Walking past the hotel lobby, I noticed a large number of policemen deployed right outside the entrance. London had witnessed a terror attack last night that left 7 dead and 42 injured and given that an international cricket team, Pakistan, was staying in the same hotel, everything was on lock-down. There was tension in the air as every fan in the hotel I spoke to said, “I hope the match isn’t cancelled.” People had not only come from different place of the United Kingdom, but also from around the world. The reason was only one: it was the day when India took on Pakistan at Edgbaston.
Closer to the stadium, the energy in the air was electric. Fans were waving flags of their respective countries and they walked into the stadium with great gusto, cheering loud, proclaiming their team to be the best. The queue to get into the stadium were long, but everyone maintained order. It was hard to tell that a city which was just 60 minutes drive away had just witnessed a terror attack.
Like the hotel, there was plenty of security at the venue. But, this would be the case on a normal match day as well. Inside the stadium, you could see the number of guards increase drastically, as each stand had close to 10 policemen on duty, keeping a vigilant eye. As I scanned our section of the stands to gauge how many of Pakistani fans surrounded us, a sign saying that cricket isn’t a racist sport stood out from the sea of people.
The match commenced to thunderous cheering, the kind that television sets are incapable of transmitting. Even if you were not a cricket fan, and got dragged to an India-Pakistan match, you would not be able to help yourself from cheering and celebrating every time your team did something good. The match on Sunday was unfortunately interrupted by rain, in which case, many of us had to abandon our seats and rush to the covered areas of the stands.
The first time the rain hit pause on the game, an Indian girl offered an older gentlemen supporting the Pakistan team cover under her umbrella. As the clouds continued to rain down their fury, in the stands, there were signs of friendship growing. A group of four young gentlemen working at various financial institution sat huddled together, three holding the Pakistani flag and the fourth holding up the Indian flag. Upon asking if they ended up being seated that way by chance, they divulged that the four of them had been friends since college and now two of them worked together while the other two were room-mates. They said that their friendship transcended borders, and their love for cricket was bigger than everything else. They continued to sit together and cheer for their teams through the rest of the match.
Over the course of the next seven hours, we witnessed the cheering get more and more aggressive. At one point, it seemed like the “cheersquad leader” for the Indian and Pakistan team in our stands would get into a fight, but they ended up exchanging flags, cheering for the other person’s team and then giving the crowd a photo-op.
Sitting in the stands of the Edgbaston stadium and watching India completely destroy the Pakistan, it was obvious that cricket brought people together like no other force could. There was no single incident of disturbance by fans and all of them maintained peace, regardless of how wild they got in showing support for their teams.
Once India had clinched victory, the real celebration happened outside the stadium. Indian supporters with the Tri-colour surrounded an open-top bus painted in the Pakistan flag and decided that that was the best spot to celebrate their team’s victory.
For the next 45 minutes, fans from across the border waited patiently as the Indian contingent turned the celebration into a glorified “baraat,” complete with dhol and incredulous dancing. Finally, the cops very politely asked the Indian dancers to make way for the bus to leave.
As someone who’s never been a great fan of the sport, I came to appreciate the power it holds over two countries who are constantly in a state of tension with regards to each other. Cricket is the only war that I wish we ever fought. It’s the one time where fans of both countries can come together, leaving behind the baggage of politics and history, to just partake in a game, with equal amounts of love and passion.