The atmosphere that an official attendance of 2,469 created for the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 game between India and Pakistan at the County Ground in Debry on Sunday gave goosebumps. There were parents introducing the game to their kids, families on a day out, friends on a break from work, and constant chants of “Jeetega bhai Jeetega, India Jeetega” and “Dil, Dil Pakistan”, even as the flag of Bharat Army – the official supporters of the Indian team – fluttered from one of the seating areas.
On the right of the dressing rooms sat the Indian fans with their dhols, while the Pakistani fans, with their bugles, took up the left.
The tone was set even before the national anthems were played out. As the players waited to walk out to the ground, the fans owned the stage. The players got involved too. Mona Meshram and Veda Krishnamurthy, as is their wont, egged the Indian fan-contingent on, while Harmanpreet Kaur saluted a fan who propagated the idea of ‘no bad blood in sports’.
Mithali Raj, who has played all 10 of India’s One-Day Internationals against Pakistan, was not unaffected.
“When we were just walking in for the national anthem, there were fans from both countries on either side and they were literally in our ears,” Raj said after India’s convincing 95-run win. “Naturally, it tends to liven up the atmosphere, but at the same time, players are in a situation where they cannot ignore the fans. At the same time, (they have to) keep themselves very composed. It is a tricky situation, but again we don’t get to see that very often. I think the girls had an experience and I am happy that I have experienced that in my career.”
Here are some of the fan stories from the day.
Harbaldev Singh and Barinder Kaur got married in India in 1964, but have been in England since then. Indrapaul Phawaj, their granddaughter, won tickets for the entire family through an England and Wales Cricket Board promotional activity. They drove down from Birmingham, and stood out in the crowd because they waved the flags of both countries.
“I am from India, and my wife’s parents are from Pakistan,” Harbaldev, a septuagenarian, said. “This is our first cricket match. I don’t come for men’s games because they always fight. We are all human beings. The girls in both the teams are like my daughters. We are supporting both the sides. Let the best girls win.”
Ratandeep Kaur watched the first game between India and England on television. She had never followed the women’s team till then, but was impressed by what she saw. “If that England match had not been on TV, I would not have come here,” Kaur said. “It’s difficult for you to develop a fan following. If people don’t see, how will they know?”
She asked Karthik Ramanujan, her husband who is from Mumbai but has been living in the United Kingdom since 2009, to book tickets for this game. They drove 240 kilometres to reach Derby on Saturday night, and came to the ground more than an hour before play started.
“The rivalry has always been there, so I am not surprised by the atmosphere today. I keep a track of results, but honestly, I don’t know the names of each and every player of the Indian team. During this World Cup, I have caught up with some player profiles and with some highlights,” Ramanujan, dressed in an India jersey, said. “The game has surely got a new fan, and if India make it to the knockouts, then I plan to go and watch them.”
A comeback after 25 years
Asfa Mirza was a kid in 1992 when she was at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch Imran Khan’s Pakistan beat England in the final of the ICC Cricket World Cup. Now settled in Derby, she came back for her first cricket match in 25 years with a big group of friends because she was proud of the Pakistani girls.
“This is my second game. I was a kid in 1992, so I don’t remember much, but all I remember is I had a good time,” Mirza said. “Being a British Pakistani in this country, I thought I should come and support them. I am from Derby, and we had to come. This is our city. This is the first time, to be honest, that I am watching a women’s game. I will follow them from now on. This is a lovely atmosphere. We try not to get involved in the rivalry. It’s a game, it should remain a game. We have come for the fun, and to have a good family day out.”
The youngest fan
Ahana Bagul is not yet four years old, but her father brought her for this game because “she likes watching cricket.” Ahana added: “I love Mithali Raj.” They came all the way from London.
Adit, Ahana’s brother, is also a big fan of the game. “I have seen women play cricket. West Indies won the Women’s World T20 last year. I saw it in the newspaper. I play cricket myself.”
“We are here because of them,” said Nitin, their father.
The big picture fan
Dr Talha Ahmed came all decked up for the occasion. He headed the Pakistani group that responded to Indian chants, but said it was all in good spirit.
“We want a friendly atmosphere. We came only because the Pakistan’s men’s team won comprehensively (the ICC Champions Trophy 20017), against all odds,” Ahmed said. “We knew about the Women’s World Cup a long time ago. Despite the rivalry, it has to be a friendly gesture at the end.”
Diana Baig was one of the players who initially felt "weird" at the attention. Some of the Indian batters looked consumed by the atmosphere, and the umpires too had a tough time with the noise around.
“Against England, the crowd didn’t turn up as much as we expected on the opening day of the tournament,” Raj said. “Maybe because it is India-Pakistan (on Sunday), so many people turned up towards the end. Back home also, there were so many people following the match.
“The players are tuned to it. When you walk into the ground, it is but natural that you want to execute what you discuss in the team meeting. Sometimes the fine snicks, you don’t hear,” she added. “Today there were a couple of dismissals which even the umpires or for that matter as players in the circle, we did not hear. Considering it is such a small crowd compared to the usual crowd that turns up for men’s cricket, I can understand how (they) play. It’s a huge hats off to the men cricketers who play in front of huge crowds.”
Hats off, too, to the 2,469 people who turned up on a glorious Sunday to yet again establish that there is a market for women's cricket that needs to be tapped.