Twenty20 World Cup 2009 June 4, 2009

British Asians can electrify this World Cup


Passionate rival fans at The Oval can peacefully co-exist © Getty Images

It was an amusing juxtaposition. The Oval was pulsating and bursting at the seams as Asia's old enemies got excited over a "warm-up." Meanwhile, a meagre politely-applauding crowd watched the home nation at Lord's. The matches were equally one-sided but the atmosphere at The Oval was worthy of a World Cup Final.

I approached The Oval expecting a buzz but fearing a riot. My mind goes back to my first India-Pakistan match, an unofficial one-dayer in the early 1980s that took place in the small Yorkshire town of Harrogate. Possibly ten times the ground capacity had crammed into the ground and onto the pitch, with the boundaries pulled in to accommodate the fans. There was passion, an uneasy tension, and countless pitch invasions. At one point, an Indian fan ran across the pitch waving his country's flag, and several hundred Pakistan fans immediately chased after him. Who knows what happened to him?

Just under thirty years later, British Asians are equally passionate about their teams, perhaps surprisingly so as each generation places mistier memories between itself and its familial homeland. Yet at The Oval both sets of fans sat side by side, often stood side by side, and frequently chanted side by side--chants influenced by football rather than Bollywood.

"Are you Scotland in disguise?" mocked India's young fans, as their team romped to victory. The Pakistan fans sitting next to them smiled back. The Indian fans had done just the same when they had been taunted. If there was a greater pleasure than seeing India and Pakistan competing on a cricket pitch then this healthy and good humoured rivalry was it.

Now the supporters of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka must continue in this fashion until the end of the tournament. They have an opportunity to show their compatriots around the world that competition needn't lead to hatred. By electrifying this World Cup, British Asian supporters can make this a memorable competition and, let's hope, a turning point in the damaging trajectory of international cricket.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here