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September 22, 2004
It wasn't quite the semi-final match-up that the tournament organisers were expecting, but Pakistan's supporters didn't seem to mind one bit. They were there in significant numbers, with hooters, whistles, horns and flags in tow. Unlike Sunday's game against India, though, there's only one element in the mix this time around - the Indians aren't around - and despite their significant presence, it only adds up to around 7000 in a stadium which can hold nearly 16,000.
The Rose Bowl might not rank among the big grounds in international cricket, but it doesn't lack atmosphere. The stands in some areas only go back around 12 rows, allowing the spectators - and the players - to feel the full force of a strong gusty wind that blows almost incessantly here. The lack of concrete around the stadium also means that there is an alternative - and cheaper - arrangement for watching the cricket: just sit on the hillocks outside the ground, stretch out, grab a beer, and enjoy the game for free. It might not provide the greatest view, but then freebies come at a price too.
It isn't often that the Rose Bowl gets international fixtures, and the authorities have gone the whole hog to ensure that the crowd enjoy their day out. There are food stalls of all types, and if wind-chill's a factor, then you can just slip into Club Marquee - a cosy, tented enclosure - grab some tandoori chicken, samosas and beer, and watch the cricket through the windows in the tent. Cool, eh?
It was all arranged with the huge subcontinental interest in the game in mind, admits Keith McRae, the Rose Bowl's catering manager. "It would have been great if the Indians had been here," he adds wistfully, obviously mindful of the extra business that would have come his way with a full house.
Most of the Indian supporters did indeed stay away for this one, but there were a few intrepid ones who wouldn't be denied. Khimji was among a group of five Indians - all draped in the national flag, and in excellent humour - who raced around the stands. They were heavily outnumbered by the Pakistani supporters, of course, but they took all the hooting and the catcalls in their stride.
"I've been to all of India's games this season," explains Khimji, "to Amstelveen, to the NatWest Challenge, and then here." Does India's dismal run bother him? Hardly. "Someone's gotta lose," he replies, with eye-popping matter-of-factness. "We're just here to have a good time." And he's certainly doing that: it's only 11.30 in the morning, and he's already into his eighth (or is it ninth) glass of beer. India's early departure has had an adverse effect, though. "We'd booked a whole bus to bring more Indians to the game," he says, "but they've all backed out now." He offered me free tickets - he had 60 of them, apparently - but all I could do was curse myself for not having brought my cousins along.
The Pakistanis are out in full strength, but a couple of hours into the game, most might have been wishing they hadn't turned up either. Despite a poor start, the horns are blaring out full blast as Yasir Hameed plays a couple of exquisite cover-drives. The celebrations are short-lived, though, as first Hameed, then Yousuf Youhana, then Inzamam-ul-Haq, all make their exits. It isn't going according to plan for Pakistan, and very quickly, the bugles and the horns die down as a West Indies v England final loomed.
Meanwhile, in the media room, everyone's trying to come up with reasons for Inzamam's seemingly inexplicable decision to bat after winning the toss. "Perhaps Bob Woolmer will say that he expected it to rain later in the afternoon, forcing West Indies to bat in more seamer-friendly conditions tomorrow morning," offers a colleague. Whatever the explanation, it certainly meant that Pakistan's incredible record of not having lost a one-dayer to West Indies after winning the toss since October 1993 was in serious jeopardy.
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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