Full house delights at dazzling rehearsal

Pakistan 158-6 India 159-1 (India win by nine wickets)
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The Independent Online

It might have been the World Cup final itself in Karachi or Mumbai. It was, as it happened, a practice Twenty20 match in south London. Anybody who doubted the potency and deep-rooted significance of cricket would have had their eyes and minds opened by the game between India and Pakistan at The Oval last night.

It was like having a theatre packed to the rafters for the auditions. The ground was full, the atmosphere was electrifying, the mood was jubilant, the noise was constant, some of the cricket wasn't bad either. Those who have seen cricket at first hand in the subcontinent would have been hard pushed to tell the difference.

There was one notable variant, of course. The support, so infectiously vibrant for both teams, was evenly split.

That would not happen anywhere else, certainly neither in India nor Pakistan. Perhaps in Canada occasionally there has been a similar division in support but with respect to Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club it does not have quite the historical connotations of the place where Test cricket was first played in England.

To confirm that the match truly was taking place in and was a product of a multicultural society the chant after Pakistan succumbed to 63 for 5 was straight from the terraces of another sport. "You're not singing any more," chorused the India contingent at the Pavilion End.

The fans sat together and if they were not in perfect harmony – M S Dhoni, the estimable captain of India, was booed to the rafters at the toss – nor was there discord. Outside the ground the security operation was greeted with a shrug and some 2,000 were denied entry because there was no room.

India won comfortably, by nine wickets with three overs left, because they took wickets and Pakistan did not. Pakistan, who opted to bat, set off at a frenetic pace but as rapidly as they scored runs they lost wickets.

Their innings was provided with its blistering start by 17-year-old Ahmad Shahzad. When he was 15 he introduced himself to English audiences by scoring 167 to help Pakistan acquire the 342 they needed to win an Under-19 Test. Last night, in one over, he was down on one knee to blaze through point, and then pulled another four in front of square. Where do Pakistan find them?

But India have been there and done that and swiftly undermined the early part of the innings, helped by batting that was too adventurous. They might, just, have been disconcerted by the late blast from Misbah-ul-haq and Yasir Arafat, who put on 45 from 27 balls, but only for as long as the interval lasted.

Gautam Gambhir, who by his elevated standards had a lean time of it recently in the Indian Premier League, clipped his first ball for four off his hips. Rohit Sharma forced the pace with some lovely placement. It may not mean much for the tournament which starts tomorrow but it was the curtain-raiser of curtain-raisers.