Cricket World Cup: Fans bring a flavour of Calcutta

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The Independent Online
ANYONE WHO thinks that cricket remains a languid, Sunday-afternoon sort of game should have been in Manchester yesterday. Of all the fixtures in the international calendar, none are so highly charged as those involving India and Pakistan.

And yesterday's mixture was especially rich: war in disputed Kashmir, Pakistan on a roll, India all but out of the tournament (and with a Muslim captain under ferocious pressure.) Britain's Asian community did the teams and the nations proud, creating at last the kind of raucous carnival spirit promoted (though perhaps not wished for) by the organisers. Swarms of rival fans packed Old Trafford with flags, drums, horns, whistles, cymbals, tambourines and a constant giddy roar. Indian spinning wheels waved alongside Pakistan's crescent moon. It all brought a heated whiff of Calcutta to a nippy Lancashire suburb. And it was probably the most atmospheric cricket match ever played in England, a stirring example to the host audience of what real cricket can be like.

When the two sides met in the last World Cup, in Bangalore, various black jokes began to circulate on the Indian grape-vine. One concerned the Indian man who was told, when he died, that he would not be allowed to enter heaven unless he could claim to have been brave at least once in his life. He mentioned the old lady he'd saved from a speeding bus, the comrade he'd rescued from the jaws of a tiger. The bouncer shook his head: not good enough.

"Well, there was this one time," the man said. "I was once the only Indian to attend an India v Pakistan match - in Pakistan.

"Bloody Hell," said his interrogator. "That's as brave as it gets. When the hell was that?" "About two minutes ago."

Yesterday's game was tense from the word go, when Tendulkar flailed at Wasim Akram's first ball as if he needed four to win. It looked nervy, like a footballer going in for a wild early challenge. There were some jittery misfields, plenty of playing and missing, a great many slashed edges and one horrendous dropped catch.

There was also some strong hitting, some neat running and some impassioned bowling. It was anything but "pure" cricket, but it kept the blaring, baying fans on the edges of their seats throughout - or would have if they'd been sitting down.

For the most part, though, the game was conducted to a deafening standing ovation, and the hapless Mohammad Azaruddin rose to the occasion heroically. His quickfire 59 was an extraordinary performance, given that he was for the most part unable to get the ball off the square.

And when he leapt at slip to catch Saeed Anwar and reduce Pakistan to 65 for 4 after their hectic run spree at the start, the drums beat harder than ever. In the end Pakistan grew paralysed, and slipped behind the rate until it was too much even for Moin "mowing" Khan. But it was tremendous stuff.

The ending carried a slightly explosive twist. There were a few fireworks before India took Pakistan's last wicket and the players bolted for the pavilion like startled foxes, and a few more when the crowd gathered in front of the pavilion. Someone tripped over the boundary rope. A few Pakistan fans burnt India's flag. For about 20 seconds, it looked almost riotous and worst fears looked like coming true. But the sun was out. India rejoiced. The carnival had arrived - at last.

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