Thatscricket - ODI Series - India~~s tour of Pakistan- Cricket fever overshadows normal life in South Asia

Published: Saturday, October 19, 2002, 20:54 [IST]
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Karachi:Cricket-mad South Asia ground to a halt as fans crowded around television sets in shops, cafes and homes to watch the opening encounter in the Indian team's first full tour of Pakistan in 14 years.

The streets were deserted in the Southern Pakistani port of Karachi, a city of 14 million people, where a record 33,000-strong crowd in the National stadium watched the series opener.

"Life has almost come to a standstil in this commercial hub of the country and everyone is glued to the television or radio," said Mohammad Maqbool, who runs a tea stall in the Central part of the city.

Hotels and cafes arranged large television screens and those who had to move about carried transistor radios to hear the running commentary of the match.

President Pervez Musharraf described the event as the start of a new era in the field of sports between the two South Asian rivals currently engaged in a peace process.

Karachi was adorned with banners and colourful buntings welcoming the Indian cricketers.

Despite the festive mood security arrangements remained stringent.

"Our job is really becoming easier the way things are moving amid so much crowd goodwill for our guests," said a Karachi police officer.

Many people took leave of absence from their jobs in Government offices and private establishments across Pakistan.

"The attendance is notably low in the offices of various ministries," said a senior civil servant in Islamabad.

In the North Western region bordering Afghanistan parents faced a dilemma because of school examinations as children seemed loath to give up watching the game.

"My class-VII son skipped two questions in his paper in order to rush back home to see the cricket action," said Mujahid Khan, a trader in the provincial capital Peshawar.

Cricket fever overshadowed normal life even in remote villages.

Pakistan's cultural center and second largest city, Lahore, which will stage the last two of the five One-day Internationals, was also overwhelmed by the enthusiasm. Almost every home, cafeteria, hotel and roadside tea stall resounded with shouts and cheers over each turn and twist in the game.

In India, the normally bustling streets of New Delhi and Mumbai were quiet as cricket fans spent their weekend at home or in restaurants and pubs watching the match.

In the technology hub of Bangalore, pubs and pizza parlours offered discounts to lure people to watch the match.

"I told my boss I will be back soon," said L Ganesh, a bank employee, who was peeping at a screen placed at the entrance of a Bangalore cyber cafe. "These (cricketing) moments are rare. I can finish the work when there is a break."

Dhaivat Nanavaty, an insurance employee, had his second "coffee break" to watch the match.

"I am tired of reading cricket updates at websites. So if one can take a coffee break and see the match then it looks normal (to co-workers)," said Nanavaty, watching the match at an Italian restaurant.

Vipin Kunnumal, an executive in Mumbai at a shipping company, said there was "fiery excitement" in the air.

"Despite all the tension and hype about security concerns, the Indians seem to be playing quite fluently," said Kunnumal, who watched the match at home.

Pakistanis voiced goodwill and friendship for the Indian visitors.

"Cricket is indeed helping the peace process," said Mahfooz Ahmed, a University teacher in Rawalpindi near Islamabad, as he watched the match in a city restaurant.

"I really don't care who wins but what I care for is that the two countries continue to play cricket and move forward on the path towards peace and friendship for their common good."

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