Pakistan versus South Africa from a spectator’s perspective

Published: September 29, 2012
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Even the foreigners learned “Pakistan Zindabad” in few minutes, and we could hear funny pronunciations from all over of "Pakistan Jindabad and Pakistani Jayeendabad." PHOTO: ZEESHAN USMANI

As soon as you land at the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka, you will not miss the celebratory environment set all around you.  You can see immediately that the nation is celebrating the T20 World Cup.

The posters, banners, advertisements, leaflets, and everyone you meet will all convey the same message; the games are on!

The famous Ranbir Kapoor advertisement on the T20 runs on national television approximately 1,000 times a day with a tag line being adopted by most cricket fans that goes like this,

Yeh T20 cricket hai, na tameez se kheli jaati hai, na tameez se dekhi jaati hai!

(This the T20 cricket; it isn’t played or watched with discipline!)

I decided I wanted to watch the World T20 super-eight matches live – the first being Pakistan versus South Africa today at the R Premadasa Stadium.

I’ve never been to a live match in my life, so I was not sure what it would feel like.

I was expecting a large crowd with endless lines, hours of delay, unclean surroundings and some nasty comments by fellow audience members from rival countries.

Anyway, I left to watch the match about two hours early from the hotel. As soon I started travelling, my heart starting beating faster, nervousness crept up inside me and then I started shaking slightly. I don’t know how or when I started feeling like this, but for the first time, it made me realise the immensity of the pressure that the team must be under while going in for a live match.

There was a crowd of a few thousand outside the stadium, but to our surprise, there were separate lines for foreigners. It took us approximately three minutes to enter the stadium after passing all the security and ticketing checkpoints. I bought the ticket for the lower pavilion because of the heat and it cost me seven US dollars for both of the matches. The regular tickets were as low as 250 Sri Lankan rupees, which would come up to approximately Rs183. I also bought an official Pakistani team t-shirt that cost me about Rs1,500 and a wig inspired by Sri Lankan player Malinga’s hair for about Rs400.

Sri Lanka, with a population of merely 20 million people, has seven international cricket stadiums to its credit! This stadium was as clean, organised and disciplined as I could imagine any really good one to be. The capacity of the stadium was about 35,000 and at the start of the match there were only approximately 6,000 people present. The audience grew to about 20,000 by the end of the match.

I was escorted by a volunteer to my seat.

At this point, the sound of the Pakistani national anthem began and although this obviously wasn’t the first time I heard the national anthem, this was the first time I got goose bumps listening to it. Blood was rushing to my head and my emotions were sky rocketing. I felt like I was like flying, soaring through the sky with the sound bellowing out of the stadium! What a proud moment!

The match finally began.

There were different guys selling everything from Pepsi to Pizza Hut and from Lay’s chips to KFC. The Indians were supporting Pakistan and the Sri Lankans’ had a mixed response, with half of them supporting Pakistan and half, South Africa. I suppose their idea was to enjoy the match either way.

With every boundary the crowd started to dance, shout and cheer so loud that I really can’t seem to grasp the words to tell you the exact feel there – let me just sum it up as ‘spectacular’. After a couple of boundaries, I really couldn’t take it anymore.

Whenever someone got out, the Sri Lankans would starts dancing and this infuriated me to the point that I would feel like fighting. Surprisingly enough, in situations like this you do not care how many of them are there, even if they can easily outnumber you. So after a couple of times what a few of us did every time they started dancing was that we would start shouting as well.

We were truly happy to see South Africa restricted to 133 for 6. But, as unpredictable as the Pakistani team always is, fear started engulfing us after the fall of the first few wickets – ‘we’re so doomed’ I thought.

Shahid Afridi was disappointing as always, and got out for a duck. I really do believe he should now retire with whatever pride he has left.

The situation looked pretty meek with six of our batsmen out. But we were getting a small dose of ‘hope reinforcement’ from the thrilling crowd; a crowd that was not even watching the game but would dance on every ball like there was no tomorrow and that we were going to win regardless.

When Umar Akmal and Umar Gul started playing their tremendous shots, the whole stadium – or at least the part of the stadium that I was sitting in and could see – started chanting in sync,

“Gul, Gul, Gul, Gul.”

Then there was that guy, who jumped out of nowhere every now and then, and would randomly yell out,

“Pakistan Zindabad”

And the crowd would respond louder with even more enthusiasm. Even the foreigners learned “Pakistan Zindabad” in few minutes, and we could hear funny pronunciations from all over of  “Pakistan Jindabad and Pakistani Jayeendabad.”

When we won the match, the entire stadium was up and dancing. At least two dozen people came to me, hugged me, and said congratulations. A substantial majority were Indians.

Secretly I wondered how many of them would want to do the same on September 30th!

Overall, it was an experience of a lifetime that I doubt I would ever forget. Hats-off, to the Sri Lankan government, for the superb arrangements, their well-mannered citizens and highly economical prices.

After dancing and shouting as much as I did, I was not worried at all about who would see me on television and what they would think of me; I was just celebrating and it was only when I got a sore-throat and exhausted myself like crazy did I decide to go back to my hotel.

So, as I head back to the hotel wearing my Malinga wig and Pakistan jersey, I have a few words of advice for you;

If you think you love cricket and have only watched it on TV, please attend at least one live match in your life; it will change you forever!

Pakistan Zindabad!

Read more by Zeeshan here or follow him on Twitter @zeeshanusmani

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Zeeshan-ul-hassan Usmani

Zeeshan Usmani

A Fulbright Scholar and an Eisenhower fellow, Zeeshan works at a private company and lives in Islamabad. He is fascinated by anything that has a direct impact on the lives of a common man. He tweets as @zeeshanusmani

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