Pakistan v India, 1st ODI, Karachi March 13, 2004

Just like Mumbai

Jagmohan Dalmiya called it the most orderly crowd he has ever seen

The perfect backdrop © AFP

Jagmohan Dalmiya called it the most orderly crowd he has ever seen. Of course he would. He's a consummate politician. But the manner in which 33,000 Karachiites rose to the occasion in the face of a dramatic and absorbing game of cricket drowned out all talk of violent fringe elements and security concerns. Sourav Ganguly said soon after the game that he could barely hear his fielders. The clapping, cheering and plain old-fashioned yelling of a near-capacity crowd provided the perfect backdrop to the first one-day international of this series.

The start of a series is always special. No matter how well the spinmeisters hype the lead-up to a series, it is when the first ball is bowled that every switch in the part of the brain that makes one like cricket is thrown. The National Stadium in Karachi is massive. When it's packed, like it was today, it comes to life. When you have a fast bowler like Shoaib Akhtar steaming in to deliver the first ball, it's hard not to get goose-pimples at that moment, as the show gets under way.

Every time you walk out on the streets of this port city, whether it is the seriously upmarket beachside Clifton area, or the congested city centre, or Lalloo Keth, the hotbed of sectarian violence, you are met with warmth. So it was hardly surprising that the fans who thronged the stadium accorded the Indian team a fair response. When Sachin Tendulkar walked out to bat, there was a roar that confirmed that Karachi is indeed a mirror-city of Bombay. When Sourav Ganguly flatbatted Abdul Razzaq for a six, people wearing blue and waving Indian flags were brought to their feet. When Rahul Dravid was bowled, for 99, there was a huge sigh of disappointment, a feeling of empathy for a man who had done so well and had been denied his due. Not all the people who sighed were Indian.

As the match cranked up to its exciting finale, people could hardly keep their emotions in check. Yet, for every shout of "India down down", there were answering cries of "India jeetega". When Inzamam-ul-Haq walked out to bat, in a high-pressure situation, there were sections in the crowd with enough of a sense of humour to chorus "Aloo aloo!" Well, Inzamam might not have seen the funny side of things, but you don't really expect a Pakistani home crowd to pick on their captain in a needle match against India.

Karachi rose, like a man wrongly jailed for murder and exonerated. The manner in which the crowd conducted itself lent substance to Dalmiya's statement that India's next tour of Pakistan would begin with a Test match here at the National Stadium. After this display, Karachi certainly deserves more than a solitary one-dayer in a 40-day tour.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo. He will be following the Indian team throughout this tour.