The toss was scheduled for 5.30 PM local time. The first ball 6 PM. In Dubai, the mercury has been touching 40C plus for a while. Today’s reading, though, says 38C at 2 PM; it feels like 50. It’s so hot that this reporter’s phone overheats and shuts down while shooting a video. But the scorching sun cannot deter fans from turning up hours prior to the toss.
India is taking on Pakistan for the second time in Dubai in less than a year. It was here in October last year that Shaheen Shah Afridi’s opening spell from hell helped condemn India to a 10-wicket defeat at the T20 World Cup. Both captains Rohit Sharma and Babar Azam may exhibit a haven of reasoned, informed views and tranquillity during their press conferences, treating this as “any other match”. But try explaining that to the fans, and you’ll realise why India facing Pakistan in any part of the world is anything but just another match.
There are temporary road closures and traffic diversions roughly within a two-mile radius. It has peeved Jim Russo, who now has to take a longer route to his house. He says, “Why are they queuing up this early? When live scores are available online and match updates come in real-time, it doesn’t make sense.”
His voice is drowned by chants of “Jeeve, Jeeve Pakistan!” and “Bharat Mata ki Jai”. He drives away even as hundreds of raucous fans jauntily trumpet their way to the various entry points at the Stadium that have been opened early to “better manage the maddening inflow”.
Cheering on Pakistan, Khaleed Hussain sums up the mood, “But this is what genuine India and Pakistan fans are about. They don’t want trouble; they are here to support their teams and the players the best way they can.”
Atif, an engineering student from Kerala, spent all morning crafting one tin-foil Asia Cup trophy but forgot to bring it along.
“It’s too late to go back and get it,” Atif says with a crestfallen face and a sheepish smile. “But I went for the net sessions yesterday (Saturday), and the players noticed me! I got a thumbs-up from Bhuvi (Bhuvneshwar Kumar)”, he beams.
The buildup is colourful, it is loud, and the tempers and passion are occasionally overflowing. But as Khaleed says, “India-Pakistan hai, yaar. Bura naa maano (Please don’t mind, it is India vs Pakistan yaar)!”