Just three nights ago, their vociferous support for the Pakistan team had made someone quip “Kolkata was turning into Karachi”, but on Saturday when Shahid Afridi and company clashed against arch-rivals India, it was M.S. Dhoni and his men who were the toast of the capacity crowd at the majestic Eden Gardens.
Wherever one looked across the choc-a-bloc stands, only tricolours could be seen as the old and the young, men and women, in unison rooted for the Indian team, lustily cheering their each and every move.
The crowd, which had gone delirious watching Afridi blast the hapless Bangladeshi bowlers on Wednesday, would go completely hush whenever Pakistani batsmen scored a boundary and dance in joy when the Indian bowlers took a wicket.
While Afridi and the whole Pakistani team have been raving about the hospitality and adulation showered on them since their arrival in the city, Pakistan coach Waqar Younis himself had admitted things would be different when they clash against India.
“It was wonderful to see the Eden crowd backing us during the match against Bangladesh, but against India, things would be different,” Waqar had said at the pre-match media conference.
While Pakistani flags could be seen during the Bangladesh match, on Saturday one could only encounter the Indian tricolour of various sizes fluttering across the stadium.
Messages on the giant screen were repeatedly flashed warning the spectators against wrongful use or insult to the Indian national flag. Hoardings with the warning have also been put in and around the stadium.
Even skipper Afridi, who won many an Indian heart when he said “Pakistani cricketers get more love in India”, could not get the adulation of the crowd which preferred to join the Indians in celebrating his dismissal.
Having had to encounter some anxious moments when a thunderstorm lashed the stadium putting a question mark on the most sought after match, the spectators had a bonanza in store — witnessing cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar along with other Indian and Pakistani greats being felicitated by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee prior to the start of the match.
In a throwback to the past, when the ever-popular Tendulkar had time and again wielded the willow in style before the euphoric large crowds, deafening chants of “Sachin Sachin” reverberated at the stadium when the ‘master blaster’ was felicitated.
The spectators also had the delight of joining Indian cine icon Amitabh Bachchan and Pakistani singer Shafqat Amanat Ali in rendering the national anthems to give a rousing start to the match, billed as “mother of clashes”.