“Can’t believe it. For sure, we will get a game. Oh yeah!” The CEO of the International Cricket Council (ICC) Dave Richardson beams as he walks out of a coffee shop that adjoins Old Trafford cricket stadium in Manchester.
The sun’s above his head and a sunny smile is on his lips, as Manchester on Friday lifted the gloom that has draped the India vs Pakistan game. As the train wound its way towards Manchester from Nottingham, where India’s match with New Zealand was washed out, a persistent drizzle was a constant companion, but as it snaked into the city in the morning, the rain stopped. We shall have a game, or so hope floats.
Later in the day, though, the skies opened up once again. The forecast for Sunday remained relatively encouraging, however, with light showers predicted amid sunny intervals.
Tickets sold out? Richardson almost sneezes incredulously at that query. He doesn’t even affirm it verbally, just nods vigorously as he walks away. Rarely has he looked this happy even during his accomplished career as a wicketkeeper-batsman for South Africa. The greatest box-office hit in cricket will now play out and why wouldn’t the organisers be delirious?
Trams plummet along close to the stadium, carrying a few Indians and Pakistanis. Some fans are already swirling around the stadium. The Pakistan team bus had rolled out an hour ago after training and India’s practice is scheduled Saturday but a few are lolling about. “Mahol dekhna aaye (came to see the mood),” says a fan from Delhi. “Bas, jeet jaaye hum parson (We need to win on Sunday).”
The hotels, backpackers, and Airbnb hosts aren’t complaining. An elderly lady, Maggie, ushers one into a room in her Airbnb home and smiles, “Five other people are coming in later this evening. Booked fully. Is there something happening at football?”
A leisurely walk inside the empty stadium reveals the last-minute preparations. Yellow men, in charge of security and hands on their belts, stand around, looking at nothing in particular. Some food stalls (Indian Curry, says the banner) are being cleaned and readied for the game. Electricians are poking around the boxes on the pillars.
Inside, the big advertising hoardings fencing the boundary lines are being checked. The grass is lush-green – probably the prettiest, greenest outfield of this tournament thus far. “It looks fabulous, right?” says a member of a broadcasting crew setting up his camera equipment.
The 2011 census shows Pakistanis outnumber Indian immigrants in the city (20,712 to 6,433) and in the last eight years, both numbers have likely swelled.
Not long ago, Haseeb Hameed, England’s Indian-origin opening batsman who played in a Test series in India was invited to launch a community-cricket programme in this city. The game is being used to make the British-Asians feel more included in the society.
It has already received 100,000 pounds of funding from Lord’s Teverners, a leading UK charity. It will engage young kids, from ages 8 to 15, to not just play the game but also provide them with life skills. Integrate them, improve education and health benefits so that they don’t go astray in life. The cricket world cup has energised the programme further and there’s nothing like an Indo-Pak game to inspire more kids to enrol in the programme.
In the here and now, though, community development isn’t the chief concern. The organisers are happy and fans are thrilled that rain has stayed away and, in all likelihood, we should get a game that Virat Kohli has called an “honour to be part of a marquee event”.
Honour, and loads of fun. In 2016, the pop diva Rihanna had enthralled a packed audience at the Old Trafford cricket stadium but it had led to residential neighbourhoods near the stadium complaining about the noise. They better get ready for some noise explosion on Sunday for cricket’s biggest attraction is coming to town.