Edgbaston: Mathew and his wife Rekha Gomes drove almost 200 kilometres from London to Birmingham on Saturday morning to watch the India versus Pakistan match at Edgbaston. There were many like them who converged at England's second most populous city to get a kick out of a great sporting rivalry.
Rain however did play spoilsport, for a while. It was expected because the weathermen are fairly correct these days. But an India versus Pakistan contest anywhere on earth is not only about action on the pitch. It's also a show of solidarity against the colonial rulers. Saturday's mood at Edgbaston highlighted that aplenty.
There was a Pakistani fan carrying a placard that read: "United we stand, divided we fall." It aptly summed up the mood at Edgbaston. It was also a message for those who control the corridors of power back home and play with people's emotions.
The last four days we have been here in Birmingham, there has not been a hint of distasteful rivalry. Fans started queuing up at Edgbaston from 8 AM Saturday morning. Tickets for this match were sold out within 30 minutes when they went online in April. On Saturday, they mostly came in groups of families and friends. It was a big party!
Emotions and sentiments have no barriers. Fans - men and women alike - gave their feelings a vociferous boost. Deafening roars of "Jeetega bhai jeetega, India jeetega" and "Pakistan zindabad" added a zing to the charged atmosphere. Edgabston was brimming with excitement.
While the cops kept a close watch on the thousands of Asian fans, there was not a single instance when rowdyism got the better of enthusiasm. There was friendly banter, lot of flag waving and lot of cheer. Clearly the most colourful and energetic Sikhs spearheaded the Indian 'challenge.' Blowing from their plastic horns and whistles, the mood was just electrifying.
There were the religious ones, dressed in Lord Vishnu's attire and with garlands of marigold around their necks. And there were the cocky ones. Young and boisterous, one of them even had a subtle hate message for India on the back of his green T shirt. But that was a minor 'error' or a large canvas of positivity.
Mathew sums up the atmosphere saying: "No sensible fan comes to a cricket match to fight. We are the working class in the UK and have a role in the economy of the country. Eighty per cent of Birmingham's taxi drivers are from India and Pakistan. There is no question of any animosity. It's more of a media hype."
The bonhomie and camaraderie was palpable at Edgbaston. It was a unique show of Asian solidarity far away from the killing fields of the sub-continent. This was cricket at its best.