Colombo: There cannot be a better sporting atmosphere than that experienced during an India-Pakistan clash.
The excitement starts building from the day before and peaks from the moment you wake up on match day.
From hotel staff to security to taxi drivers, the only question is: “Who will win the match?”.
Very often one does not have to respond because their verdict follows the question.
Though the match is played on the field, the real battle happens outside the playing arena.
Supporters of each team come dressed up specially for an India-Pakistan match. Most of them have a Pakistan or an India flag either on their cheek or forehead.
Just to get a feel of the crowd on Sunday, I walked out of the press box into the stands.
A security guard was kind enough to let me get a panoramic view of the crowd. The stadium was packed to the brim with 35,000 people screaming at the top of their voices. It was really deafening.
Almost all the big guns in Sri Lanka were at the stadium, including the President of the country, Mahinda Rajapakse. Pakistan and India fans from all over the world had landed yesterday.
It was easy to identify the different groups. My hotel receptionist informed me that Indian supporters from China and even Russia had come for the match. The Pakistan supporters were mainly from Manchester in England, I was told. “Most of the rich Pakistanis stay in England and they can afford to fly down,” a Pakistani journalist said.
India supporters have a group called the ‘Bharat Army’, who resemble England’s ‘Barmy Army’.
“Do you know what India’s biggest advantage is?” asked Kumar Rathod, who claimed to be a member of the Bharat Army and was dressed in traditional attire and had donned the tri-colour.
“It is not their batting, bowling or fielding strength, but their experience to play in front of a packed stadium and the ability to handle crowd pressure. Most of the Pakistan players are not experienced enough to handle such pressure,” he said.
In the end, I felt Rathod was right, as a fiery encounter ensued on and off the field.
India’s Suresh Raina, after taking a catch, had to turn and signal to the crowd that he was not bothered by their screams.
Pakistan’s young spinner Hasan Raza not only dismissed Gautam Gambhir for a duck, but also used foul language that was repeatedly shown on television.
For the next few minutes, the Indian fans screamed abuse at Raza.
A skirmish between two groups took place when an Indian fan asked whether coaches in Pakistan teach youngsters to end their bowling follow-through with abuse.
The intensity turned up so high that many feared clashes between fans towards the end of the match, and hence policemen were deployed in large numbers all around the stadium.
Almost all the Pakistan supporters left the stadium when India needed only ten more runs to win. All that remained were Indian flags that fluttered around.