June 5, 2017
Choice of game
An India-Pakistan match at a neutral venue is always an exciting prospect due to the fair balance between the supporters in the stands. This is even more so in Birmingham, where there is a sizeable population of Indian and Pakistani origin.
India. Having experienced mixed results on my visits to Edgbaston for the 2004 and 2013 editions of the India-Pakistan match-up, I was looking forward to India edging ahead in the head-to-head equation in Birmingham. After my World Cup quarterfinal hat-trick for India, this was a rather special hat-trick to achieve as a spectator.
Choice of attire
With some part of the evening prior to the game spent in a (successful) search for face paint, my standard checklist of India's 1999 World Cup jersey, flaming hair-do, Indian scarf/flags and face paint was complete. As reports of the London attacks started to trickle in, I decided to leave my bugle behind to make it easy for the security personnel.
The opening stand between Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan hit the right note in quick time and helped India get to a solid platform, which enabled the final push. As the partnership progressed, the DJ belted out Thin Lizzy's The boys are back in town. There were was no guessing whom that was meant for.
Hardik Pandya's three consecutive sixes. The game was quite reminiscent of the 1996 World Cup quarter-final. In both games, India's final surge took them to an above-par total. Pandya took the disappointed crowd - they were expecting their beloved MS Dhoni - into a state of delirium with his big hits. The cricket aficionados in the knowledgeable West Upper Stand also discussed the prospect of a repeat of Yuvraj Singh's heroics from a decade ago. But that was not to be.
One thing I would have changed
The two run-outs of Shoaib Malik and Rohit. Although a splendid effort by Ravindra Jadeja, Malik showed the intent, which was appropriate for a game and chase of this magnitude and his departure closed out any hopes of a respectable fightback. As for Rohit, a century would have been the apt reward for this hard work.
Music, dance & camaraderie
Edgbaston certainly ranks among the best grounds in the world when it comes to its atmosphere, part of which is greatly helped by its generous admittance of musical instruments. On the day, there were plenty of dhols in each stand and this got several parties going. During the rain breaks, there were plenty of friendly bhangra and chanting competitions between the two sets of fans. Any onlooker with little or no knowledge of South Asian history or current affairs might have asked what is the rivalry everyone's on about!
Unlike previous encounters, the Pakistan contingent was probably down to less than 20% of the crowd. This game will likely be remembered for the maximum presence of Bharat Army members at a cricket match, with their caps/jerseys seen prominently across all stands.
Fancy dress index
Despite being outnumbered, the Pakistani fans showed their passion with innovative and rare costumes. The Sheikh and King of Pakistan, Cricket General, Mr. Pakistan etc. brought a green open-top bus onto Edgbaston Road, blasting out Dil Dil Pakistan with their flags flying all around. While plenty of the regular Indian touring supporters were on view, the famous Sudhir Gautam made his maiden appearance in the UK. There seemed to be an increased preference towards the use of traditional headgear by the Indian fans.
The affable Farokh Engineer, the swashbuckling former India wicketkeeper was spotted at Edgbaston after the game. Although famous for his easy interactions with fans, his security team seemed to have a different take on things when he decided to mingle with the fans and took him away from the fans via an alternate exit.
Shot of the day
The first boundary by Yuvraj was all timing. Wahab Riaz followed up the bouncer off his previous delivery with one pitched up and that straight drive just flew to the boundary. Although helped by poor catching from the Pakistan team, it was a clear indication that Yuvraj was in top form and it showed later in the innings.
Marks out of 10
Eight. Although clinical on most fronts by India, the poor fielding, lack of intent and continued questionable selections by Pakistan meant that the contest turned into a damp squib. Personally, it was a fantastic day out with my friends and my brother, who travelled from Bengaluru for this tournament.
After the game got over, the Pakistani fans' green bus had to contend with the partying Indians before they could drive away. The focus then shifted to the team buses and once those left, the near-empty Edgbaston Road reverberated to the tunes of Bharat Army members using a street musician's guitar skills and mike to belt out the "Virat Kohli song", "Inzi song" and some Punjabi hits.
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