The primary battlefield between India and Pakistan moved from Kashmir to the cricket field yesterday as the warring nations -- and their battalions of screaming, chanting, flag-waving fans -- fought a riveting match that ended in an upset victory for a gutsy India squad in the second round of the World Cup championships.
Hundreds of police were on hand in Manchester, England, to head off violence, a wise precaution given that the rivals are firing artillery shells at one another back home, and the last India-Pakistan cricket game, in Calcutta in February, spawned so many riots that all 70,000 fans had to be ejected and the match finished in an empty stadium. Yesterday a few fists and a few fireworks were thrown, and some flags were burned in a mild postgame melee. But for the most part the event lived up to all those old cricket cliches about "the fields of friendly combat."
The emerald green Old Trafford cricket ground was full to the brim with 20,500 spectators, with many waving flags, blowing whistles and air horns and beating Punjabi drums. The day-long din filled a half-mile radius around the stadium. But the last 30 minutes of the eight-hour match turned eerily quiet. The roaring chants of "Pahk-ee-STAHN" died out as the Pakistan devotees realized that their heroes could not match India's total of 227 runs.
Mystified by India's roster of spin bowlers -- the cricket equivalent of a junk-baller -- Pakistan finished at 180 all out in the 45th over. The defeat was a shocker for a team that has been ranked with South Africa as a favorite to win this triennial world championship, although Pakistan was not eliminated from the tournament.
Yesterday's contest brought normal life to a stop on the Indian subcontinent, where nearly every TV, radio, and oversized screen in both countries was tuned to the epic confrontation.
For many, the match was far more than a sporting contest -- it was a metaphor for a host of larger issues, starting with the current military clash along the Line of Control between the two neighbors over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.
"We're watching the Line of Control right here," said Ajwat Ubaid, 35, a businessman from Lahore who was munching barbecued chicken and watching the match on a giant screen at the Marriott Hotel, the premier social gathering place in Islamabad. Waiters dressed in special cricket uniforms hurried among the tables, ducking so as not to obscure the screen.
In the nearby city of Rawalpindi, as darkness fell in the teeming Bara Bazaar, shopkeepers and customers gathered around transistor radios propped on piles of melons and TV sets resting on bolts of sari cloth.
"We feel more charged when we play India, because they are our born enemies," said Liaquat Chaudhary, 34, a tailor watching the game in his shop with a half-dozen others. "It's not just Kashmir," he added, "it's the nasty way they have treated us ever since Partition." The partitioning of Pakistan and India in 1947 was marked by massive bloodshed.
There were other hyperbolic comparisons. In the past year, India and Pakistan have successfully tested nuclear weapons and missiles, and yesterday two newspapers in Pakistan described the match as a duel between "Ghauri and Prithvi," referring respectively to missiles in Pakistan's and India's nuclear arsenals.
But many fans refused to be drawn into any debate about Indo-Pakistani relations while watching the match, and the mood was calm throughout the long afternoon.
Imran Khan, the Mark McGwire of Pakistani cricket, once suggested -- at least half-seriously -- that the bitter 50-year-old conflict over Kashmir should be settled once and for all by an all-or-nothing cricket match between the combatants' all-star teams.
Not quite that much was at stake in yesterday's match, but Manchester police had not concealed their fears that the game could spawn violence.
As it turned out, there were few problems during the game. Most of those who attended are British residents, removed by decades or generations from the subcontinent. In Britain, where all south Asians have felt the sting of discrimination, Indians and Pakistanis have as many shared experiences as differences.
"We came by coach from London -- Indians and Pakistanis together," said Ramesh Jadva, who wore an Indian flag cape on his shoulders and Indian flag turban over a long wig in the Indian colors of orange, green, and white. "Yeah, we call each other `bleepin' this' and `bleepin' that,' but we really came to have fun."
They also came to see world-class cricket -- and definitely saw it yesterday.
The one-day form of cricket played in international matches is like a baseball game. Each team gets one half-inning to score as many runs as it can. The goal for the first side up is to run up as huge a margin as possible, to demoralize the other team.
Yesterday that format, together with the implicit international tension, produced a thrilling contest. When India ended its four hours at bat with 227 runs, most fans thought the total would not be enough to win. But India's bowlers, backed by spectacular gymnastics in the outfield, held off the Pakistani bombers all afternoon.
The game offered the same moments of individual triumph and failure that mark great sports competition everywhere. When India's near legendary batsman Sachin Tendulkar flied out after scoring an unspectacular 45 runs, the Pakistani players and fans exploded in a long, raucous celebration. Tendulkar, shaking his head in dismay, was left alone to walk glumly off the field -- the long, lonely walk of the unhappy athlete who has just let down the side (not to mention 900 million fans back home).
Reid reported from Manchester, Constable from Islamabad.