I don’t know if it was the ease with which Pakistan put away the West Indies in the quarter-final or the prospect of watching them end another unbeaten World Cup run – India’s then 4-0 record against Pakistan, ugh – but that Pakistan Day, I began to dream.
I had read earlier that day that the International Cricket Council (ICC) had promised to expedite the visa process for Pakistan fans. After we won, I called my best friend and partner-in-cricket-obsession and told her we had to go. If India lost their quarter-final to Australia a billion tickets would suddenly become available, and if they won, well, then we would be going to TGME (the greatest match ever). I’m not sure whether her response was more ‘are-you-crazy? Bewilderment’ or ‘OMG-let’s-do-this excitement.’
We had no idea where to start, but that was probably a good thing because we didn’t realize how hopeless our cause was until it was too late to give up.
Inspired by Ashley Kerekes making it to the Ashes thanks to a viral twitter campaign, we started a #getthegirlstomohali hash-tag on twitter asking for ticket and visa information, and secretly hoping for ridiculous favours. We had five days to get visas, find match tickets and get on a plane or a train or a taxi to Mohali. How hard could that be?
Pretty much all the information I got on how to make this cricket pilgrimage happen – from the link to the right visa form to where in Islamabad I could find a printer at 5AM – came from twitter:
-The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has a visa-hotel-match-ticket package for $500 but you have to know one of their big-shots. - The Indian embassy is issuing visas along with tickets if you have a contact in the High Commission (they didn’t pick up their phone from 10:30 AM to 3PM). - If you have a visa, getting a couple of match tickets is going to be a breeze. - Actually, you need a ticket to apply for a visa. There must be some tickets reserved for Pakistan fans. - Even some of the journalists covering the event don’t have visas yet, applying at this point is hopeless. - Just apply ASAP, I think you’ll get it.
You get the picture.
Our first breakthrough came on Friday when the kind Ambassador Husain Haqqani messaged on twitter saying he would try and help us get a couple of tickets. Now that I had more tangible hope of getting a ticket, I got another friend on board. We thought briefly about sending-in a rushed application immediately, but were advised that the better option would be to submit in person Monday morning, two days before the match. We made plans to get to Islamabad from Karachi and Lahore to kick off operation #getthegirlstomohali for TGME.
The next step was filling out the online Indian visa application form. Saying that the experience was frustrating would be as much of an understatement as saying Test cricket will miss Mohammad Amir: there was no “Go Back” option and the form kept dying on us thanks to some aggressive timeouts.
There were non-technical challenges too. We cleared the first hurdle thanks to the generous Dileep Premachandran, who agreed to be our sponsor but we still needed a place to stay and all the hotels in or near Chandigarh were sold out. Our visa application deadline was 0830 on Monday the 28th, so no hotel success by Sunday evening meant we were needed someone in India willing to write us letters inviting us to stay with them, along with the relevant documents.. We also needed to submit a photocopy of our yet-to-be-sourced match tickets.
It was a long shot, but if any of us didn’t believe in the kindness of strangers, we were about to change our minds by the end of this match. A sweetheart of a journalist in Delhi agreed to be our pretend-host, before another very resourceful and exceptionally kind stranger from Ludhiana tweeted to say he could get us a hotel booking. Another friend in Mohali emailed us a picture of his three VIP passes to the match and we were all set with the visa application requirements – thanks to three Indians we had never met!
The officer at the Pakistan Foreign Office responsible for forwarding our applications to the Indian High Commission was on his fifth paan and impatient for breakfast, but he went out of his way to help us. It turned out that the visa application I had spent the last three nights filling out had been the wrong form all along. Thankfully this one was offline so we finished it quickly, paid the visa fees and said bismillah and shukriya and got out of there.
We were told we would hear about the decision by that night so we went home and crashed for a while before we began searching for match tickets. We pushed our twitter campaign, messaged every cousin, high school-nemesis and ex-colleague who worked at or knew someone at the tournament sponsors or the PCB and e-mailed all online black-market ticket sellers. By that evening, we had been promised two tickets – one from the kind ambassador and another from a friend’s friend at Times of India. Just one more to go…