x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Bowled over by incredible India

Supporters gather across UAE to watch semi-final showdown

Indian cricket team supporters show their delight as they follow the match at the India Club yesterday in Dubai.
Indian cricket team supporters show their delight as they follow the match at the India Club yesterday in Dubai.

DUBAI // Ear-splitting whistles, deafening cheers and riotous applause greeted India's victory in a crucial semi-final World Cup cricket game against old rivals Pakistan as fans stayed glued to the match on large screens in malls, clubs and bars across the UAE.

The venues screening the decider turned into mini-cricket stadiums with fans dancing and leaping into the air as they cheered their team playing under the floodlights in Mohali, northern India.

"We knew India would win, we always believed that," said Ambrish Mukherjee, who works in the aviation industry. "I don't care what happens in the final, I'm ecstatic about this result."

Mr Mukherjee watched the game with a group of six friends who are long-time supporters of Indian batting legend Sachin Tendulkar, and cheered when he won the Man of the Match award for his quick 85 runs.

Most Indian fans collectively held their breath, even though Pakistani wickets tumbled towards the end of the innings.

"I am too thrilled to speak, too delighted," said Arun Dhyani, an insurance broker whose face was painted with the Indian flag. "I'm always tense when India plays. I worry about watching matches because sometimes it doesn't go our way. But today was phenomenal."

The men were among 1,600 fans who filled Dubai's popular India Club waving Indian tricolour flags. The cheering began with the quick runs put on the board by the Indian opening batsmen and reached a crescendo when the fans sensed victory after spinner Harbhajan Singh took the vital wicket of the Pakistani captain, Shahid Afridi.

The support staff at the club ensured they caught the game even while they were busy selling food coupons or handling dinner orders. They ducked in to watch the match every time a Pakistani wicket fell and shouts rang out in the large hall with screens set up at either end.

In venues across Dubai, thousands of people took a day off from work or left early to watch the game. Many took extended lunch breaks to catch the match at restaurants near their office. Others stayed on in malls for nine hours to watch the entire match, with estate agents keenly watching the game alongside homemakers with children in tow.

"We can't go to Mohali [the Indian semi-final venue] so we come out to enjoy the atmosphere," said Sharabjeet Kundra, a housewife with two young children watching the game at Lamcy Plaza in downtown Dubai. "Our passion is always high when India plays, whether against Australia or Sri Lanka, but naturally it's higher when we play Pakistan."

For many such as Anshu Mulchandani, a Dubai-based fashion designer, the game worked like a shot in the arm.

"The India-Pakistan game fever takes you to a different kind of high," she said. "It's almost like having a drug, plus it's the World Cup. It's our one way to connect to our country."

Her colleague was in complete agreement. "An India-Pakistan game just gives you an adrenalin rush," said Fatema Adnan. "You are on edge until the last ball."

Fans said they enjoyed the excitement building up between the rival groups.

"It's good to see it outside home because we have competitors here, whereas at home it's all Indians," said Chaitra Shetty from Sharjah, who laughed as she pointed at Pakistani supporters in green T-shirts seated nearby. "You get more charged up outside, it's good competition."

Several malls increased security with men and women in black suits or plain clothes keeping a watchful eye on excited crowds of Indian and Pakistani fans that turned up a half-hour before the match started.

With a mixed band of fans pointedly backing their own team, large screens broadcasting the game were also used to post warnings that cautioned that "as per instructions from the Dubai Police, people shouting slogans and waving flags would be escorted out of the mall immediately".