Welcome to cricket Edgbaston style. Two nations, who have conducted four wars, were transfixed by a match that meant everything and nothing. Just when it seemed the only winner would be this travesty of an English summer, India completed a one-sided, eight-wicket victory over Pakistan.
They will harden as favourites for the Champions Trophy, but Pakistan’s retreat, after three unconvincing performances, will be ignominious. The rain which caused four interruptions will not rescue them from the wrath of their public. A 50th one-day defeat by India will chafe and offend.
Despite the frustrations of what was, in any case, a dead rubber, the occasion had a life-affirming innocence. Nuclear neighbours with a dangerous sense of intransigence were confronted by a unifying passion. Political enmity and cross- border tension were replaced by weather-generated melancholia.
The abbreviated match was set to teeth-decaying Europop and eardrum-destroying Dhol drums. Insults were issued and accepted with a smile, in the knowledge that this was a rare chance for British Asians to celebrate their heritage.
Compared to the reverberation of the rivalry between India and Pakistan, the Ashes psychodramas pale into irrelevance. A football match between Argentina and Brazil is a minor skirmish and a Glasgow derby between Rangers and Celtic represents a little local difficulty.
In terms of the size of the audience, this was the biggest sports event of the British summer. Birmingham, on a day of bizarre climatic contrasts, was the centre of the universe for an unseen throng, a billion strong.
Cricket in England lacks the sporting significance it has in the subcontinent. The Ashes are wonderful theatre, the perfect platform for the Australians’ inferiority complex, yet a home defeat will be an irritation rather than a national trauma.
Yesterday, supporters shared top billing with icons who shouldered the burdens of nationhood. Their lack of inhibition gave the contest substance and context. The South Asian version of the Mexican wave was manic, with Pakistan and Indian flags forming a multicoloured blur.
Tickets had been sold out in under an hour, but the usual rabble of touts were ignored. Constant chants of “Zindabad Pakistan” – “Forever Pakistan” or “Long Live Pakistan” depending on the translation one accepts – were answered by more familiar, earthy refrain: “Who are ya?” It could almost have been Villa Park, down the road. Almost. India’s self-styled Swami Army outnumbered their counterparts, although many stewards wore Pakistan shirts beneath high-visibility jackets. Each boundary, celebrated with the intensity of a winning goal at an FA Cup final, unleashed a riptide of celebration around the old ground.
Despite the similarities, there are inherent inequalities. India came into the Champions Trophy primed by the aggression and disciplines of the IPL. Pakistan arrived burdened by the restrictions of four years as global gypsies. The security situation ensures this was the nearest many of their players have got to playing before a home crowd.
The ICC, like the weather, which ranged from high cloud to driving rain and piercing sunlight, couldn’t make up their mind. They originally signalled that the game would be reduced to 30 overs apiece, before adding another 10 overs.
There was something bleakly predictable about Pakistan’s failure to bat out their allocation. Their total of 165, increased to an initial 168 under the arcane Duckworth Lewis regulations, was never going to be enough. India fielded with spirit and athleticism. They bowled with guile and intelligence. There was a whiff of Bollywood, more than a hint of hero worship as Pakistan lost their last six wickets for 34 runs in 9.4 overs.
Four bowlers, distinctive but deadly, each took two wickets. Bhuvneshwar Kumar struck either side of the initial rain delay. Ravichandran Ashwin was rewarded for extracting turn and bounce, and Ishant Sharma, whose mane of dark hair gave him the air of a model in a shampoo commercial, was quick and insistent.
But the real star was a physically insubstantial man with an unlikely nickname. Ravindra Jadeja, christened “Rockstar” by Shane Warne, has been a pivotal figure in this tournament. His left-arm spin, delivered with venom and variety, caught the eye.
All that remained was for Shikar Dhawan to exude star quality as India chased down a target which was reduced from 168 to 157 and, finally, 102 in 22 overs. The left-handed opener, with his waxed moustache and raffish, raised collar, represents the new generation. He cemented his status as the tournament’s lead scorer, making 48 from 41 before perishing in the deep.
That was a minor inconvenience because India required only 39 runs to win from an allocation of 63 balls, following the final rain interruption. They got them with 17 deliveries to spare in mocking sunshine. The closing soundtrack was provided by the dancing dervishes, who exude a pride which cannot be matched.