x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Mohali is rocked by an emotional roller-coaster India Pakistan ride

A topsy-turvy game between the arch rivals takes fans from both sides through highs and lows.

The crowd never rested their vocal chords.
The crowd never rested their vocal chords.

You knew it was going to be different as soon as the morning alarm went. At most games, it is been possible to have a lie-in and head to the stadium around 12.30pm to collect the match ticket that grants you access to the press box.

In Mohali, the circular had gone out the evening before. Get to the gate before noon, or head back to your hotel.

Getting there was no picnic. The media pass got my rickshaw through three security checkpoints before it was emphatically waved away at the fourth. Walking the final 700 metres with fans, I saw at least four different Indian shirts, but not one of the beautiful navy blue of 1992 vintage.


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A couple of the sniffer dogs that had earlier inspected the stands were heading back in a police jeep, and I came across the first group of Pakistani fans. They looked petrified, a small girl and her mother in particular. Two camera crews had surrounded them and the microphone was in the girl's face. She just stared.

Security was inevitably tighter than at any other match. Roads around the cricketing citadel were closed, and anyone entering the ground had to negotiate several almost forensic checks for any dangerous or suspicious objects.

At one checkpoint, I lost my sunscreen and tissues, both potentially lethal weapons.

The frisking that followed, not once but twice in the space of 50 metres, was again overzealous, as though Punjab Police were determined to outdo Delhi in the harassment stakes.

Finally inside, I watched children with flags practise what would take place in the presence of dignitaries two hours later. The stands were barely half full and there was none of the buzz that there had been at the 48,000-seater Motera last Thursday. The noise levels went up briefly when the players came out to practise, but the biggest cheers were reserved for a sighting of Aamir Khan, the Bollywood star.

The periods of silence said much about the celebrity nature of the crowd. The more seasoned fans started to pump up the volume once India won the toss and a couple of gigantic Bharat Army flags were unfurled in the build-up to the anthems.

The Pakistani one received polite applause, while there was raucous acclaim once Jana Gana Mana had been sung. Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, was the first to shake hands with the Pakistan players, while Yusuf Raza Gilani, his counterpart, led the way in greeting the Indians.

A group of fans held up a banner featuring both the Indian and Pakistan flags on either side of the printed words "Friends Forever".

As soon as the premiers left, the chants of "India, India" started, interrupted only by the staccato shouts of "Sachin, Sachin" as the openers strode to the middle.

Those who were not fortunate enough to get a ticket watched on big screens erected around nearby Chandigarh, which ground to a standstill for the game. Police also relaxed a ruling banning fans living near the ground from climbing on their roofs to watch.

It took only three balls for Virender Sehwag to crash Umar Gul through the covers, and the crowd went wild, with the Indian tricolour waved in its hundreds across the stands. As long as Sehwag was out there, the noise levels went up steadily, peaking in one Gul over when he casually took five boundaries.

It was electrifying stuff and too good to last, and there was a punctured-balloon atmosphere when he departed. In the stand at square leg, a Pakistan flag waved happily, but the Indian standards next to it were very still indeed.

After that, it was all about Tendulkar and an emotional roller-coaster for 28,000 people. Twice off successive Saeed Ajmal deliveries, the Pakistanis thought they had him. Each time, replays on the giant screen were accompanied by yells of delight. Their hero would stay.

The reprieves came thick and fast after that. First from Misbah-ul-Haq and then Younus Khan. Each lapse got the crowd going, with the Sachin chant followed by "Jeetega, bhai, jeetega, India jeetega [We'll win, brother, India will win]".

That optimism evaporated in the space of two balls from Wahab Riaz. Virat Kohli's dismissal brought groans, then there was stunned disbelief as Yuvraj Singh, who went to school just up the road, missed a swinging full toss.

As long as Tendulkar was batting, there were sporadic spikes of noise. But once he went, caught at the fifth time of asking, there was a sea of sullen faces. They revived only in the batting power play, when Gul's horrible day got worse with two overs going for 24.

The klaxons blared and there were jigs of delight, especially when Zaheer Khan got four with a bizarre leading edge over point. Suresh Raina's little cameo lifted spirits, but it was very much a case of anticipation meeting apprehension as people left their seats to try and find a snack and a drink.