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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

D-day arrives for India and Pakistan cricket fans

Supporters pack the streets of Dubai Sports City as Asia Cup clash gets underway 

Fans filled the streets of Dubai Sports City in the build up to the Asia Cup clash between India and Pakistan. AP Photo
Fans filled the streets of Dubai Sports City in the build up to the Asia Cup clash between India and Pakistan. AP Photo

After weeks of anticipation one of the world’s greatest sporting rivalries finally got underway on Wednesday, in a fanfare of energy and noise.

Indian and Pakistani cricket fans flowed into Dubai International Cricket Stadium from all corners of the emirate to watch the epic Asia Cup clash unfold.

The last time the two cricketing titans came together, Pakistan delivered a thumping 180-run win at the Champions Trophy in London.

So humiliating was the defeat that Indian fans were desperate for a reversal of fortune this time around.

“This game is what cricket is all about for us,” said Indian supporter Vijay Fulwani, 29, a textiles businessman from Andhra Pradesh in the southeast of the country.

“No other matches matter - this is so important. We love our wicketkeeper MS Dhoni. He’s the main man and will become prime minister one day.

“I'll travel anywhere to watch him bat, as long as India wins of course.”

Sparks often fly when India and Pakistan come face to face in front of the stumps.

Since partition in 1947, India has yet to lose to Pakistan in a World Cup, although Pakistan has recorded smaller, albeit still notable victories.

Pakistan fan Haroon Rashid, 30, a human resources consultant from Peshawar was at the match with his partner, an Indian supporter.

“There has been a bit of friction between the nations and we know it’s a big game," he said. "But it’s all friendly between the two of us.

“It's been a topic of discussion over the breakfast table as it’s the first time we’ve played each other since we’ve been together.

“The rivalry makes these games even more special when they come around.”

Although police were out in force to maintain order, there was little sign of the excitement spilling over as thousands of fans piled through the turnstiles.

Benali Mazumdar, 29, an aeronautical engineer from Kolkata in the far northeast of India, said the one-day clash with Pakistan had been in her diary for months.

“Cricket is everything in India and the games against Pakistan are not like any others,” she said.

“To win means so much to everyone. This rivalry is about politics, our governments and the long history between our two countries.

“This is more than sport, it is symbolic and gives us our identity. But we know it’s just a game and we must all get along.

“It’s a shame we will not see Virat Kohli bat, but we have Dhoni - he is such as special player.”

On Tuesday, a nervous India edged home against Hong Kong in their first match at this year’s Asia Cup.

The game added further intrigue for fans desperate to second-guess what could unfold in the 50 over clash with Pakistan.

With both teams expected to face each other again in the final this Friday, the first fixture was an early opportunity to inflict some psychological damage.

Many fans travelled from their home countries to catch a glimpse of their heroes, with fast bowler Mohammed Amir and star batsman Mahindra Singh Dhoni taking top billing.

Bilal Hayat, 30, who works in client services, said he and his wife Fatima, 29, had flown in from Karachi to support his beloved Pakistan.

Those spectators living in Dubai had an altogether more convenient journey to the ground, despite the heavy traffic.

“This is the first time in a while we have played each other at a neutral venue that's close by,” said Mr Hayat.

“I’ve been to Dubai before but it is the first time for my wife.

“I wouldn’t say this is a friendly rivalry, not when it comes to cricket anyway. Things change when we play these big matches.

“It doesn’t matter what the tournament is or where it is being played, this is always a special match."

Mr and Mrs Hayat said they were planning to stay in Dubai until the final next week.

“There’s such as buzz about the stadium - an amazing atmosphere,” said Fatima.

“It is hard to think of this is just a game - there’s so much passion. Although we travelled quite a long way it’s been worth it. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

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Read more:

The UAE's 'home' game: India and Pakistan cricket fans get ready for latest chapter in fierce sporting rivalry

After Asia Cup, Hong Kong cricket fans can look up to their own stars

Fans facing traffic holdups ahead of India v Pakistan clash

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By 6.40pm, Pakistan, who batted first, were all out for 162. As India’s opening batsmen took to the field the 25,000 capacity crowd roared in delight.

Businessman Deepak Gamnani, 40, from Andhra Pradesh, said excitement had been building all week.

“All of our colleagues have been talking about the game and trying to get tickets,” he said.

“It’s been the only topic of conversation and I can’t believe this day has arrived.

“There seems to be a lot more India fans here, so we’ll make our voices heard in the stadium.”

India went on to win the match by eight wickets.