Birmingham: The clashes between Pakistan and Afghanistan fans at Headingley have left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Cricket fans here have a reputation for being friendly and sporting. England is notorious for clashes between football fans in the past, but rarely has it happened between cricket fans.
Even during the India-Pakistan match on June 16, although there is a huge rivalry between the two teams, there was no instance of violence on or off the field. Even taunts were accepted sportingly by the fans.
The rivalry between football fans is so common here that an Indian cricket writer who went to a pub in Birmingham wearing a Manchester United team jersey was asked to leave or wear something to cover it. When the journalist asked whether he would be permitted if it was a cricket team jersey, the bar attendant said that he has instructions only to not serve drinks to any fan wearing a football shirt.
Though cricket fans haven’t had big clashes in Birmingham, two famous cricketers clashed in a bar here a few years back. It was at the same Walkabout bar that Australian opener David Warner punched Joe Root during the 2013 Champions Trophy. Interestingly, in 2013 as well as now, the hotel where I am staying is located very close to this bar, and while walking past it I remembered this incident that had created a huge furore.
With the number of Indian flags outnumbering England’s, an Indian fan remarked that although it was England that ruled India years ago, on this day it looks like the Indians have conquered England and hoisted their own flag.
The mad race for tickets continued until the start of the game with fans willing to take risks to buy them, despite the chance they could be fake, from street-side sellers. Organisers have put up boards on the gates of the stadium saying that tickets from street sellers might be cancelled ones, and may prevent them from entering the ground. It is understood that these tickets are being sold at triple the actual price. In fact, though the clash at Headingley was attributed to political differences between Pakistan and Afghanistan over Balochistan, some say that the clash began following a ticket seller trying to sell a fake ticket and getting caught.
Former England captain Kevin Pietersen’s tweet before the match asking Indian skipper Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri not to drop Vijay Shankar, and that Shankar will win the match for them, went unheard. An Indian journalist seated next to me, on reading the tweet said: “Will anyone listen to a former England captain before an England match? This tweet could be the reason that prompted Kohli to drop Shankar; or why should Pietersen be a Shankar supporter?”
Most of the Indian fans from the Sikh community wore orange turbans following the colour of Team India’s new jersey.
After noticing that most of the stadium was filled with Indians, former England captain Michael Vaughan jokingly remarked that so far he has counted 86 England fans at the ground including the England team and coaching staff.
England skipper Eoin Morgan during the pre-match press conference had even remarked that his team may not get the feeling of playing in England tomorrow. “The noise that the Indian fans make with their horns and different things makes it that much louder. So tomorrow is going to feel like an away game.”