More than 120,000 fans thronged the Narendra Modi Stadium in India’s Ahmedabad on Saturday to witness the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup’s box office fixture between archrivals India and Pakistan.
Nearly all of them, however, were Indian fans and they were cheering their team with energy levels as intense as they could get.
India steamrolled Pakistan by seven wickets in a lopsided blockbuster match to maintain their unblemished 50-overs World Cup record against their neighbours.
Pakistan were bowled out for 191 in the 43rd over after their batting line-up collapsed in characteristic fashion in the face of disciplined Indian bowlers.
To make it even more intimidating for the Pakistan players, the chants by the stadium announcer and the spectators were, obviously, only to buck up the home side.
So was the case with the music being played at the cauldron-like venue.
Pakistan team director Mickey Arthur felt it all and did not hold himself from being “brutally honest” about what he felt was a partisan atmosphere.
“It didn’t seem like an ICC event to be brutally honest,” Arthur said in the post-match press conference when asked how much a factor the partisan crowd was against a “timid” Pakistan team.
“It seemed like a bilateral series; it seemed like a BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) event.”
Arthur accused the public address system organisers of favouring India by refusing to play a renowned patriotic song: “I didn’t hear Dil Dil Pakistan coming through the microphones too often tonight.”
Arthur, however, didn’t count it as an excuse for Pakistan’s lop-sided seven-wicket loss against India.
“So yes, that does play a role, but I’m not going to use that as an excuse because for us it was about living the moment. It was about the next ball and it was about how we were going to combat the Indian players tonight.”
Pakistan fans were effectively banned from the ground after failing to secure visas to cross the border, leaving the arena awash with the blue shirts of India supporters as the hosts coasted to a seven-wicket victory.
Arthur’s team were backed only by a handful of expatriate Pakistan fans who had made the trip from the United States and United Kingdom.
Since the 2008 attacks on Mumbai, India and Pakistan have not played a full bilateral series as New Delhi and Islamabad remain at diplomatic loggerheads.
India failed to issue visas to Pakistan fans despite them already having acquired World Cup match tickets.
Arthur admitted his team let themselves down with only captain Babar Azam (50) and Mohammad Rizwan (49) contributing major runs.
“I thought we were a little bit timid,” said Arthur of the batting. “I did think we could probably have taken on the Indian spinners just a little bit more.”
Five Indian bowlers — Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Siraj, Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja — grabbed two wickets each as Pakistan folded in 42.5 overs having been 155-2 at one stage.
“I think we’ve got to realise that there are two ways to always skin a cat,” said Arthur.
“And we’ve had success by taking it deep and then cashing in at the back end but we couldn’t do that.”
With the win, India extended their unbeaten record against Pakistan in World Cups to 8-0, with Arther also involved as head coach in the 2019 event in the UK.
“I can only explain 2019 and this one,” said Arthur. “I think we were well beaten in both games.”
Pakistan head coach Grant Bradburn had similar sentiments about the environment at one of the biggest cricket stadiums in the world.
The New Zealander believed it would have been better if Pakistani fans were in the stadium.
“We’re really sad that our supporters aren’t here and they would have loved to be here,” Bradburn said during a media talk following the match.
“Even the Indian fans would have loved to have Pakistani fans in the stadium. So, it was really unusual in that way. No familiar music for us! It did not feel like a World Cup game, honestly.”
“We love the occasion and we are disappointed that we did not do justice to the occasion or justice to our many fans at home and globally,” Bradburn added.