| A Pakistani supporter. (Reuters)
Karachi, March 13: Hearts skipped beats as India clinched a cliffhanger. But in the end, cricket — the great connector — was the clear winner.
As hundreds of drained-out fans trooped out of the National Stadium here, one sentiment dominated — and it held no hatred.
“It was too exciting and thrilling to see two cricket giants clashing with each other in an atmosphere filled with joy and hopes for a better future,” Samina Qureshi Ashraf, a Pakistani fan, said after Sourav Ganguly’s boys put it across Pakistan today.
“It seemed the whole crowd kept fingers crossed for good ties,” she added.
Ashraf was not the only one talking about relations between the neighbours who nearly went to war last year.
“It’s more cricket diplomacy than sports this time,” said Ahmed Khan, one of the millions who had taken the day off from work and saw the game — the first of five one-dayers before the three-match Test series begins.
Although a few did curse the Pakistani bowlers for their “worst” performance, most — including former greats — played down the defeat.
“I haven’t seen such a wonderful Pakistan-India match in my cricket career. It is really healthy rivalry on the field,” said ex-captain Imran Khan, the man with the lethal swing who had demolished a touring Indian side way back in the early eighties when relations between the neighbours had not soured yet.
Inside the stadium, the crowd cheered every run and roared when wickets fell. Others fell silent as the match climaxed. But they all applauded when India stopped Pakistan five runs short of 349.
“That’s what I wanted to see. That the people should take the defeat of the Pakistani team, especially against India, boldly,” said Fareed Siddique, a 60-year-old with a white beard.
If the Pakistanis waved their crescent and star, Indian fans held up the Tricolour. “I love this movement,” said Ahsan Raza, who had come from Bangalore.
In the crowd, the siblings — Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s son Rahul and daughter Priyanka — were the focus of attention of most photographers.
As she entered, Priyanka was given a rousing welcome by not only Indian but also a host of Pakistani spectators. What it showed was the mood.
Outside the stadium, life in the bustling port city had virtually ground to a halt. Most of the shopping centres had no shoppers while few vehicles plied the roads as people stayed indoors, glued to their television sets.
“Since the start of the match, very few customers have come to my shop,” said Jan Ali, who watched the match with his employees at his garment shop.
Those who did feel the pinch, though, were daily-wage earners. They went without work the whole day.