8th March 2018
I was fortunate enough to watch the game between Karachi Kings and Islamabad United yesterday in Sharjah. The match was to begin at 8 pm local time. I bought the ticket online. The process was very straightforward. The best available seat was for 168 AED. I thought that the enclosure titled, ‘members’ enclosure’ would be the best one. As there were no allocated seat numbers and I could choose to sit wherever within the enclosure, I had hoped that I would be able to sneak in behind the bowler’s arm, which would allow me to get the best view.
Everyone who heard about my plans warned me about the traffic, and the fact that I must allow adequate time to travel from Dubai downtown to the stadium. I was lucky to get off work by 5pm. That meant I could begin my journey to the stadium right away.
My taxi driver, who was from Pokhara in Nepal, was about thirty years old and surprisingly well-read. He approximated that the travel time was around an hour and fifteen minutes. I reassured him that it was fine as I had plenty of time to get there. We had a long chat covering various topics e.g. SAARC, on the way, as his taxi moved at a snail’s pace between Dubai airport and Sharjah. He told me that in his village, a European company had sponsored a run-of-the-river power plant of 67 KW, which was enough to supply electricity to the 250 houses. Everyone paid a fixed bill of 100 Nepalese Rupees and there was zero load-shedding. He also told me that, if fully utilised, similar projects throughout the country could generate 83000 MW of electricity! The full requirement of Nepal was 2000 MW. If completed, much power could be exported, yielding Nepal a hefty profit. I was surprised to know that such a massive power generation could be achieved with ‘run-of-the-river’ projects, and without constructing large water reservoirs. But I didn’t challenge his statement as he seemed to know what he was talking about. Chit-chatting in this manner, I finally reached the stadium, just after 7pm.
There was the usual hustle and bustle of the crowd around the floodlit ground. These weren’t thronging crowds, but whatever number of people were there, were very jovial. To attend a game in the evening rush hour, on a working day, one had to be a die-hard fan of the sport. The commitment of these fans was therefore, palpably obvious.
As I walked into the stadium, clutching on to my ticket, I spied a black range-rover, from which emerged the owner of the Karachi Kings team – Mr Salman Iqbal. He was sporting the familiar Karachi Kings shirt and had a sombre expression on his face. As he walked away from his car, a security official approached him and gently, but firmly pointed out, that he could not park his car there. Mr Iqbal sported a brief expression of annoyance, but then, he must have realised that he wasn’t in Karachi! Here in Sharjah, the uniform-clad security man had the authority of the state of Sharjah behind him. He therefore, quietly asked his driver to park the car in another spot. Silently amused by this unexpected spectacle, I moved towards my members’ enclosure and ascended the steps to enter the stadium.
At this point I realised that I wasn’t going to be in the ‘best’ stand but in the stand next to the best one! The best stand was called the ‘corporate stand’. I enquired if it was possible to get my ticket upgraded. One of the young and very helpful stewardesses informed me that regrettably, the entire corporate stand had been sold-out. Now that was a surprise! I therefore, kept my seat and watched people trickle in slowly.
It was a very mixed crowd; young and old, men and women. A very family-oriented gathering. I was soon joined by a group of two young men and their families. The families sat a couple of rows ahead and I got flanked by the two blokes. I asked them as to which team they were supporting. I was delighted to know that they were both IU supporters.
In our stand, there was an overwhelming presence of KK supporters. The IU supporters were outnumbered by a ratio of at least 1:10. The very few IU supporters were however, really loud! A couple of lads had very strong vocals and initiated the proceedings by suggesting that all the KK fans should go to sleep after eating a plate-full of biryani! That resulted in the understandably predictable response of a counter-attack from KK fans in which the term ‘burgers’ was clearly audible! The fact that even within one family, a wife was supporting Karachi and her husband, Islamabad, clearly showed the transnational strength and diversity of the crowd.
The game kicked-off with an intensification of fan wars. The relatively slow pace of the KK innings meant that IU fans had more to gloat about. Sami’s clean-bowled invoked further reminders to KK fans that they should ‘go to sleep after biryani’. The winning chant was perhaps the following one: ‘Karachi walon ko humari taraf say, aik puppee idhar, aur aik puppee udhar!’ This forced a smile from the KK fans as well, and everyone enjoyed a spirited laugh!
A rather sedate KK innings did little to subdue the tempo within the crowd. Every chaukka and every chhakka was applauded with loud cheering. Fans were smiling, chanting, dancing and having one-hell-of-a-time. The stands clearly paid homage to a nation that was lively, knew how to have a good time, yet stay respectful. I did not hear any indecent comments or malicious ones. It was all very good fun.
Karachi finished at a semi-respectable total of 153. KK fans thought that the total might be just enough. It all depended on how good a bowling effort Amir and Irfan could put together. During the Karachi innings, the ball had moved off the wicket, and the way the batsmen struggled to hit the ball, cleanly meant that it wasn’t really the typical Sharjah batting track. From the pick of Islamabad bowlers, I was really impressed with Ashraf. He was lively and difficult to ‘get away’. Sami of course, with his experience and still lively pace, was the IU spearhead. Looking at the veteran, I couldn’t help thinking that maybe, with some effective mentoring, he could have been a far more effective bowler for Pakistan in his younger years.
In the short innings break, the fan chants didn’t quite abate. KK fans were predicting that IU batsmen would only manage to get 95 on the board. (With what mathematical calculation and cricket forecasting methods, they managed to arrive at this number, I wasn’t quite sure?). IU fans kept up with biryani chants and a barrage of ‘puppees’.
Well, whatever little hope KK fans harboured, rapidly evaporated into thin air when Ronchi launched a barrage of shots. He and Duminy, to the delight of the boisterous IU fans, absolutely decimated the Karachi attack. The predicted total of 95 was reached in record time, without the loss of any wickets. The IU fans now started questioning the mostly subdued KK contingent, ‘Karachi walon, Kitnay aadmi thay?’ The KK fans obviously appeared sheepishly silent, when IU fans gleefully answered their own question: ‘Do aadmi thay!!!’
One of the lead KK fans now enacted a brilliant move. Over his blue and gold KK shirt, he swiftly donned a Pakistani long, green Kurta, complete with the star and crescent.
At the top of his voice, he let loose a passionate victory chant:
‘Tumhari jaan, humaari jaan’
A sizable number of people replied,
More people joined in,
Yet more people shouted,
The entire stand reverberated to answer to the enthusiastic chant as everyone passionately called out, PAKISTAN!
After every chant.
It was an electrifying moment when this colourful, lively and fun-starved group of jazbaati Pakistanis joined together in harmony to shout out the name of their motherland in perfect unison. In this foreign land, amidst the Arabian desert, the match had brought together people from all over the world. They had supported their individual teams, yet stayed united under one flag, one banner and under one nation: PAKISTAN!
Islamabad won, Karachi lost. It was, after all, a game. One side had to win and the other had to lose. But the real winner was undoubtedly, Pakistan.
Pakistanis’ Jazba, Paindabaad
Please Note: A version of this article first appeared as a personal post by Dr. Sajid Butt on the Facebook Group The Boys In Green