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Watching India v Pakistan in Beijing

And there's a bit of blue lighting too, to go with the Indian colours Huizhong Wu

"What is going on?"

The young women behind us are genuinely mystified. One is Italian, the other Hungarian, communicating as expats abroad tend to do, in English. We hear the question and turn to answer. The bar we're in is convivial and people talk to each other across tables. But there is no easy reply when you're watching cricket with newbies. Not any old game, either: India against Pakistan in the World Cup.

That we're sitting in Beijing just makes it that much harder to process. For the young women held hostage by the large screen across the room; and for us.

***

There are about a dozen of us watching the cricket pretty seriously. We all belong to the Beijing Ducks Cricket Club, or know someone in it. The members enjoy playing the game, but the camaraderie around it is just as important. There are Aussies, Brits, Kiwis, South Africans, a fair sprinkling of subcontinentals; a Zimbabwean in the recent past, a Malaysian, a few American converts.

The bar we're in, Side Street in central Beijing, is owned by an Indian who belongs to the group. I walk in through the intermittent drizzle that has cooled Beijing down this summer day. There are drinks deals laid on for the Ducks and the mood is festive when I arrive. Rohit and Rahul are making hay.

"How's the pitch," I ask.

"Flatlining."

"What's the word?"

"Pakistan are playing for D-L."

"Bit early, surely? Has it rained yet?"

"Nope. But they're getting hammered. And Manchester is going to do what Manchester does."

Our local Liverpudlian is prescient. (He grudgingly admits that Old Trafford is a super ground to watch cricket in. You can see the effort it takes.) The bar is still full of non-cricketing patrons and there is no commentary from the screen. The driving music serves as a bizarrely fitting counterpoint to what already feels like a procession, even though India's innings isn't half-done. Even the green-clad fans the feed regularly cuts to in Manchester seem disconnected, looking intently at their devices. The Indian fans in their hideous store-bought turbans leap about in silence. This is how you enjoy a vuvuzela, I suddenly realise.

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"Where are the Pakistani boys," I ask.

I had been hoping for a more bipartisan turnout. Josh is better enjoyed as a cocktail, after all, and not straight up. But the others shake their heads. A few places are mooted and dismissed. I turn to my phone. WeChat rules in China. I reach out in a few groups.

It turns out a few Pakistanis were watching the game at a place in the suburbs, but their team's limp fielding and turgid bowling has served to send them all home already. "This bloody team puts you through the emotional wringer like no other," one WeChat acquaintance says ruefully. The gulf is too vast, notes another later, in a different chat.

The resignation is telling. But in Side Street, a couple of fellows in front of us cheer every breakthrough Pakistan make, and later, every blow they strike to the fence. One is English, the other American, but they're redressing the balance on behalf of a Pakistani friend who can't be there. Even though they're not all that busy, it is still a nice gesture.

***

Behind us, the young women fretfully enquire how a team accumulates points. You run, we tell them. Unless you hit it to the fence. Or fly it over.

"Like that?" Our necks snap around to the screen, where Rohit has just flayed someone over cover.

"Just like that."

"And they're called runs?"

"Yes."

"But you don't always run them?"

***

The rain arrives, as advertised. Some of the other patrons in the bar are getting energetically drunk. One man in tattoos and a sleeveless vest comes up to me.

"Three hundred, mate," he bellows in my ear. He's clearly Antipodean. With his voice, he doesn't need a phone to speak with his family at home. "Your lads don't even have to come out and finish up. Pakistan's not getting that many. Not with this line-up."

He's loud, but he's not wrong. Once the Indian innings has meandered to its conclusion, Pakistan's openers come out and play as if they're in quicksand. When Bhuvneshwar Kumar pulls up lame, Vijay Shankar, whom you might politely label a makeweight seamer, has Imam-ul-Haq miss a ball by the proverbial mile to have him plumb in front. Not reviewing is the one good decision Imam makes.

"Pakistan haven't turned up," is the verdict. One by one, the cricket-watchers leave. Behind us, the young women are still googling the game and its rules.

"Stupid game," says one with finality. "Who started playing it anyway?"

"The English."

"Ah."

Babar Azam falls to an otherworldly delivery from Kuldeep Yadav. The green army on the screen silently check their phones. I'm the last Duck left in the bar.

I waddle off as well, the rain gentle on this quiet night in Beijing.

Avtar Singh has spent three years in Beijing. His most recent novel is Necropolis