India fans in the stands celebrate after third umpire confirms the wicket of Pakistan's Saud Shakeel, lbw bowled by India's Kuldeep Yadav after a DRS review at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 India vs Pakistan match at Narendra Modi Stadium, Ahmedabad, India on October 14, 2023
Image: Amit Dave / Reuters
October 14 was a crazy day in Ahmedabad. “It is a sea of blue,” my colleague screamed as soon as we stepped out to drive towards the metro station. A huge crowd is always expected no matter where the arch-rivals India and Pakistan clash in a cricket match.
But this time it was the craziest. Not just because it was a World Cup game, but more so because it was being held at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, the world’s largest cricket stadium with a seating capacity of 132,000.
The scenes inside the metro were incredible. Almost everyone was wearing a blue jersey. People seemed really excited. The closer we came to the final station—Motera Stadium—the more people stepped in. It didn’t take much for people to start raising slogans.
Unexpectedly, chants of “Jai Shree Ram” were raised more often than anything else inside the metro. Maybe it was a sign of what was to be expected in the rest of the day.
The crowd outside the stadium was 100 times more than what we witnessed while driving towards it. People had come almost 5 hours before the start of the match. “Can we breathe in there?” my colleague chuckled.
Many news anchors were reporting from outside the stadium. With every passing second, the crowd was getting heavier. Each fan I spoke to was confident of India registering an easy win. I tried hard but couldn’t spot a single fan wearing green (yet). It was obvious because Pakistani fans weren’t given visas to travel to India. Just a handful of journalists were permitted to travel, that too after a lot of fuss.
Meanwhile, the vendors selling Indian jerseys outside the stadium were massively busy. No Indian fan wanted to enter the stadium without wearing blue. “It’s how we are identified,” Sunil told me as he was trying different sizes of jerseys for himself and his kids.
“Virat, Rohit aur Gill ka sabse zyada bhikta hai
[Virat, Rohit and Gill’s jerseys sell the most],” Ravi, a vendor, tells me, adding, “Jitne abhi tak aaj maine becha hai utne poore saal mein nahi bikte
[I don’t sell as many jerseys in the entire year as I have sold already today],” he says with a broad smile.
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A green dot in the sea of blue
As I entered the stadium, it was roaring. The DJ was getting into action and the crowd was dancing to its tunes. Suddenly, I spotted a glimpse of green near the E block of the stadium. I rushed and saw a middle-aged man wearing a Pakistan jersey with one Indian jersey in his hand.
“Is he really from Pakistan? If yes, why would he carry a blue jersey as well!” I wondered. In a bit, I reached closer to him and asked about his whereabouts.
“I am from Pakistan, currently living in Houston,” Uzair Mohammad told me in a nervous tone, probably wondering why I was asking. “I am a journalist and wanted to talk to a Pakistan fan,” I told him to clear his doubt. He breathed a sigh of relief.
“My friend has also come with me and I am trying to get our seats combined! Can’t stay away from each other,” he said. I asked him how it feels to be outnumbered so massively. “Good!” he said in a sarcastic tone with a smile.
It seemed he was nervous and unsure about how things would unfold. Being among a few Pakistani fans amid over 1 lakh Indian fans was always going to be hostile. Also read: The ODI format is under threat and bilaterals have become sterile: Gary Kirsten
Not just cricket
Uzair, alongside a few other Pakistan fans, knew what was coming. Home crowds are always in the majority and they enjoy their moments to the fullest. But India and Pakistan have a huge history.
We often hear people from both countries say, “India vs Pakistan is more than a cricket match!” It has its own repercussions though, which were high on display on October 14 in Ahmedabad.
It started when Pakistan's captain Babar Azam came out for the toss. He was greeted with boos by the huge crowd. “It is a two-edged sword: We enjoy the India vs Pakistan cricket match but there’s a dark side to it too. We start seeing each other as enemies fighting on the borders when it is just a cricket match,” Hemant, who identifies himself as a true cricket fan and not just an India supporter, tells me.
The DJ on the ground kept playing Indian nationalism-centric songs and the crowd would burst out with regular chants of “Jai Shree Ram” too. It was all fine till the people took it to another level.
When Pakistan’s wicket-keeper batter Muhammad Rizwan was returning to the pavilion after being dismissed, he was gagged by the “Jai Shree Ram” chants.
Even Pakistan’s team director pointed towards these things in the post-match press conference. “It didn’t seem like an ICC event, to be pretty honest. It seemed like a bilateral series, like a BCCI event,” Arthur said. “I didn’t hear ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’ coming through the microphones too often. That does play a role.”
Quite a few fans had come with an Israel flag and placards supporting them, prompting Israel’s Foreign Ministry to put out a tweet. “We were really moved by Indian friends showing their solidarity with Israel. We are happy that India emerged victorious in the #INDvsPAK match at #CWC23 and that Pakistan was unable to attribute its victory to the terrorists of #Hamas,” the tweet read.
The exit tussle
India registered an easy win. Crackers burst in the air. People danced and celebrated. But now the challenge was to exit the stadium.
Over 1 lakh people coming out of a single place at the same time means chaos. And it indeed was huge chaos. The exit doors were jammed. People were pushing each other left, right and corner.
“India beating Pakistan was a much easier job than getting out of here,” fans were telling each other. Many would have decided to stay back till things settled down but security on the ground was forcing people out of the stands. It took almost 2 hours for the jam to clear up. Later, a lot of fans complained of their phones and other accessories being stolen.
“Watching an India vs Pakistan cricket match is undoubtedly fun, but to be honest it is as much of a challenge,” Sameer, a fan who had to struggle a lot to get tickets for the match, said while making his way out of the stadium after a long wait in the queue.