Dubai: Many residents skipped work or school on Sunday to watch arch-rivals India and Pakistan face off in the Cricket World Cup, resulting in less traffic on the roads but crowded places showing the match live.
India beat Pakistan in the Pool B level match in Adelaide Oval, Australia on Sunday, with roars of celebration tearing through places showing live screenings in Dubai.
Pedestrians stood for extended periods of time, peering through the glass to catch the action being played on TVs at restaurants and shops.
Some malls and hotels had large screens in place for viewers, turning them into mini stadiums of sorts. Large numbers of Indian and Pakistani expatriates turned up at these venues to enjoy the game.
There also was security and police presence at places showing the match. People at home and work were glued to their TV sets, especially towards the final moments of the match, lest they miss a highlight.
Those without access to TVs were hooked to social media, forming online groups to send and receive updates. Many people could be seen checking the latest developments on their mobile phones repeatedly, almost on a minute-by-minute basis.
Others tuned in to the radio in their cars, listening with rapt attention.
Many onlookers unfamiliar with cricket seemed surprised at the crowds watching TV, with the tension almost palpable in the air.
India-Pakista matches at any level are immensely popular and emotionally charged, but especially so when it comes to the World Cup, held every four years.
Sunday’s match was the first clash between the two cricket titans in this World Cup.
Despite rules against national flags or banners at some places showing the match, many people turned up with the items. Also, there was an outpouring of “violations” such as “whistling, clapping and shouting” despite management notices to refrain from such “misbehaviour”.
The games are without incident in the overwhelming majority of cases but there have been rare occasions in the past where verbal or physical fights have broken out between the two sides.
On Sunday, circumstances were calm, even cordial, between rival supporters and the day ended in joy for the winners. Pakistani fans said their team displayed a fighting spirit till the end and remained confident they would win further into this World Cup.
“Many left midway during the match when the tide was turning against us, but I stayed on. Anything can happen in an India-Pakistan match,” said Pakistani student Moiz Ahmad, 16, who skipped school on Sunday.
He was among a few hundred Pakistanis and Indians watching the match at the food court of Lamcy Plaza mall in Dubai.
Some office executives and businessmen had also turned up, leaving work behind.
“I popped in and out of the office after sending a few mails. It’s my first time to see an India-Pakistan match in such a big gathering in Dubai. The atmosphere was very charged, I couldn’t afford to miss this,” said an Indian executive from Sharjah.
In the last World Cup in 2011, India and Pakistan met in the second semi-final.
It is the first time the two neighbours have faced off in such a crucial match and the showdown — in the Indian city of Mohali — had overwhelmed expats here too with emotion.