European recession and Birmingham's great Indo-Pak rivalry

England's second most populous city has always been the first choice for the England and Wales Cricket Board when it has come to cricket matches featuring India and Pakistan.

Updated: June 14, 2013 22:28 IST
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Birmingham: Tickets for Saturday's India-Pakistan ICC Champions Trophy are being sold at six-times their face value. This is normal before a game of such stature. With rains threatening the clash between the arch-rivals, a few have even driven down from Derby to sell off their tickets and make a quick buck. But there are few things in the world that you can't exchange for money. A cricket match between India and Pakistan is one of them.

The European recession has had a big impact on Asians here. In his late thirties, Kamu, his real name is Kamaldeep Singh, has been driving a taxi in Birmingham for the last 12 years. He belongs to Kapurthala and loves cricket and hockey. But can't afford to buy a ticket, take a day off and go to Edgbaston to see India's cricket stars.

"It's impossible to do something like this. It's difficult days now. Jobs are scarce and you must drive a taxi for at least nine hours a day. Even if I got the time, I can't buy a ticket for 200 Pounds (about INR 17,000). It's next to impossible spending that kind of money when you have a family to feed," says Kamu.

Septuagenarian Hardeep Singh is from Jalandhar. He has been driving a cab in UK for the last 45 years. He remembers Abid Ali, Prasanna, Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Eknath Solkar and Farokh Engineer very clearly but struggles to name the current crop of players. For someone of his age, his cricket memories are quite vivid. He has seen India's World Cup campaign in 1975 and 1983. But watching cricket is a luxury now.

"I still drive a taxi and can't afford to spend on cricket. The Seventies and Eighties were the good times. The economy was good and we could go and have some fun over a couple of drinks," remembers Hardeep.

Almost 75 per cent of the mini cab drivers in Birmingham are from Asia. There was a mass exodus from India and Pakistan in the Eighties. "Life is tough here but there is respect for people and labour and there is no corruption. Every year I go back to Punjab to meet my parents, I see India on the decline. Even the cops want bribes," says Kamu.

It will be like a beauty pageant at Edgbaston on Saturday. The New York Times recognizes Saturday's match as one of the biggest sporting contests ever. Measured by the numbers who care about it, the Champions Trophy cricket match between Pakistan and India can claim to be a continuation of the world's greatest sporting rivalry, wrote the New York daily.

"It is as if all the feelings of the New York Yankees versus Boston Red Sox rivalry in baseball, Barcelona versus Real Madrid in soccer and England versus Australia in any sport had been distilled and deepened with an extra dose of hostile geopolitics and the passions of 1.4 million people.

"Of course, not every single person in Pakistan and India will be transfixed by events at Edgbaston on Saturday, any more than the whole of Boston and New York really stops for the Red Sox against the Yankees. But plenty will, not only back home in South Asia but among the vast global diasporas of the two nations.

"That diaspora is one reason Birmingham is an ideal location for the clash. England's second-most-populous city has just over one million people, of whom around one-fifth - divided two to one in favor of Pakistan - have roots in one of the South Asian giants," wrote Huw Richards of NYT.

Passion has seldom crossed its limits. Birmingham has of course seen scuffles between young Indian and Pakistan fans the last time the two teams met in a Champions Trophy match at Edgbaston in September 2004. Drunk and young, spectators clashed outside the ground after India lost the game. But that is just a minor scar on the reputation of Birmingham's passionate cricket fans, says Imran, also a taxi driver from Mirpur in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

Imran used to play club cricket in Birmingham. The burly 34-yrear-old was a fast bowler whose cricketing aspirations was hit due to injury. "It was some silly young guys who were drunk and got into a soccer-style row. It was stupid," said Imran, who is looking for a lucky ticket to cheer up the Pakistanis.

It will be only the third time that the British Asians will see India and Pakistan going head-to-head in the UK. India won the World Cup match in Manchester in 1999, but Pakistan took revenge at Birmingham in the 2004 Champions Trophy. "The match will be intense, but passion won't spoil the mood for sure. I have been to Edgbaston many times. It will be fun," promises Imran.

Hardeep says there has been a positive impact of the European recession. "Yes, there will be fans supporting their own countries, but in Birmingham we have not lived as Indians or Pakistanis. We call ourselves Asians and that's how we deal our lives in the UK. Sports should not divide, it should unite," the wise old man said.

Cricket has even bridged international boundaries. Not only from all parts of the UK, fans have converged from as far as Germany, too. Thirty-five-year-old Sudhindra Prasad (in pic above)arrived Friday morning from Frankfurt and straight away turned up at Edgbaston. It was a cloudy morning and Pakistan turned up first for nets. A couple of Pakistani players posed for photographs with him and even signed autographs. His day was made.

"I had seen the 2004 Champions Trophy match too. India were rebuilding their team and Pakistan were a classy lot. (Yousuf) Youhana (81 not out) played a brilliant knock and Shahid Afridi (25 off 12 balls) hit a cameo to beat India by three wickets," Prasad, an engineer by profession, remembered.

"This time the Indians are on a high and exact some revenge. But Pakistan will be fearless and express themselves for sure. It's all set for a good battle and it would be worth the travel from Germany," he said.

With no hint of politics or terror attacks, cricket has surely united India and Pakistan in Birmingham.

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