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June 8, 2013
Choice of game
This game promised a great battle between the players who lifted the World Twenty20 trophy and Pakistan's versatile pace- and spin-bowling attack. To see Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard go up against Mohammad Irfan and Saeed Ajmal was the mouth-watering experience that pushed us to make a beeline for the tickets. On the day of the match I was confident Pakistan would see out the opening game easily and keep the Gayle-force in check.
My group of friends, born and bred in Pakistan, was supporting the Greens. In fact, the crowd support was so lopsided that it was as if the match was being played in Lahore or Karachi. All analytical conversations in the stands were going on in Urdu and the cheering or "naare-bazi" was also predominantly desi-style.
In a match like this, there were so many tiny battles, each worthy of a mention. The way Kemar Roach and Sunil Narine mesmerised the top and lower order respectively, or how Gayle stood up against Irfan and Junaid Khan, or how Ajmal tricked embarrassing edges out of the West Indies - all great sights. However, Misbah-ul-Haq's innings stood out. The match would certainly have not been worth the efforts of all the fans if he had not held out at one end. His straight sixes were a painkiller for his supporters than anything else. There was a shared feeling of loss and despair in the stands when he was not able to complete his hundred, and it was a show of great character when some the West Indies players walked over to shake his hand at the end of the innings.
One thing I'd have changed
I would have been thrilled to have the result of the match changed but that would be asking for too much now, or would it? But had this been a high-scoring match, it would have allowed a few more sixes and fours and the crowd would have just loved that. Every high-scoring shot was a thrill in the stands and watching such talented cricketers caress the ball to the covers was an education.
Face-off I relished
Gayle's wicket counted as three wickets for Pakistan - a feeling shared by the crowd analysts. So watching Gayle face off against the pace and spin was pure bliss. Irfan's height and Gayle's power were to be tested and they proved worthy opponents. Irfan peppered him with short deliveries, but Gayle waited for his chance and then smacked him down the ground effortlessly. Ajmal, with his rolly-polly doosras, eventually had the better of Gayle and provided the best cheer of the match.
The Mexican wave was there and so were the samosas and biryani in the crowd. But the top moment has to be the catch by Gayle in slips. That big guy, who is really slow otherwise and conserves his energy like a caterpillar yet to bloom, threw himself in the air to grasp Junaid's edge and complete a quite wonderful catch.
Shot of the day
There were quite a few lusty blows hit during the day but Gayle's simple one-legged pull towards square leg stood at the top. And there is something magical about watching a guy walk out a few steps and smash a straight six in to the sightscreen. Watching the ball sail over the field while you are in the process of getting up and craning your neck to see whether the ball crosses the boundary or not - pure glee!
When Pakistan were batting, Darren Bravo was standing next to us, and with our batting stuttering, there was not a lot that he had to do. However, when it was West Indies' turn to bat, Shoaib Malik stood on our side for a while and got quite a bit of sloganeering going against him. The crowd showed its displeasure for his first-ball duck.
The crowd meter has to be set at 12 out of 10. There was a not a single moment when there was no cheering or jeering going on. It was one-sided mostly, but every now and then there were about a dozen West Indies supporters in our stand who would stand up and start cheering their own team. And with absolutely nothing to shout for, the hundreds of Pakistan supporters around them would dwarf them in to submission. It was borderline hilarious, because there were times when Pakistan had lost a couple of wickets but the fans in our stand would not allow the few West Indian supporters to have their moment.
Fancy dress index
A guy sitting in our stand was dressed as the Dictator from last year's Sacha Baron Cohen movie. He had done a pretty good job with his full white attire and stayed in character throughout.
In the drinks break, the drums started playing, and the fires lit up for sixes and fours. But it was the sparing use of fireworks from the top tier of the stands that caught the eye. They really teamed up with the loudest cheers to improve the party atmosphere in the ground.
Travelling as a group we had everything from diapers to sodas and crisps in our rucksacks. The kids had their individual whistles to blow their hearts out, but the highlight was one of our four-year-olds holding up a six card when Pakistan desperately needed a wicket.
Banner of the day
Pakistan's supporters are really not in to placards and banners but this one got a thumbs-up from everyone. Once Gayle was dismissed, the banner went up saying, "Gayle - this is not IPL. These are PAK bowlers". He got cheers from the hugely partisan crowd, and had a few more minutes of fame when he was asked to run around the stadium with his banner held high.
A big thank you to the organisers for a wonderful Champions Trophy match. The ground looked in superb condition and there were plenty of volunteers who helped us out even when we had not thought out our question properly.
Marks out of ten
The game, the atmosphere and the cricket get 9. If only the batsmen had put up a bit more on the board. But with both captains leading their teams well to challenge their opponents, this game was one for the purists and the Twenty20 generation.
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