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India and Pakistan cricket fans find common ground at ‘Friendly Games’

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Birmingham (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Pakistan and India fans mingled at Edgbaston on Sunday during the much-anticipated Commonwealth Games clash between the South Asian rivals, with supporters hailing the occasion as a chance to increase harmony.

Australia’s cricketers are favourites for gold in Birmingham but there is nothing to match the fierce rivalry between the two cricket-obsessed South Asian nations.

Political tensions mean cricketers from the two countries currently only meet in multi-nation events.

India cut bilateral cricket ties with Pakistan after attacks in Mumbai in 2008 that authorities blamed on Pakistani militants.

They have not faced each other in a bilateral men’s series since Pakistan toured India in 2012/13 for a set of one-day internationals and Twenty20 matches during a brief thaw in relations.

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But there was none of that tension as thousands of fans from the sizeable Birmingham-based Indian and Pakistan communities gathered at Edgbaston to watch the women’s teams do battle on Sunday.

Spectators tried to keep dry in the steady early drizzle as Birmingham rock band Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr Blue Sky” blared out.

The sun eventually appeared and the match was reduced from 20 to 18 overs per innings, with Pakistan batting first.

The Pakistani fans impressed with their fancy dress — one dressed in a “Mad Hatter”-style costume in the national colours and another wearing a superhero-style outfit with a shock of green hair.

But it was the Indian fans who had more reason to cheer as their rivals were bundled out for just 99 in their 18 overs.

India then rattled off the runs to win by eight wickets inside 12 overs, with Smriti Mandhana making 63 not out.

‘Banter’

Pharmaceutical consultant Rahul Vyas said the match at the Commonwealths — otherwise known as the “Friendly Games” — was “a wonderful place to increase love, harmony and peace”.

Vyas travelled from London with his two teenaged children and his sister.

To him, sporting clashes between Pakistan and India present an opportunity for engagement between the two sets of supporters.

“This can be a uniting force,” the 47-year-old told AFP. “If I cannot interact with my Pakistani friends how will I be friends with them?

“This is a great opportunity today — look at that Pakistani boy, he is around the same age as my son.

“They both have the same passion for cricket, too many things are there for the basis of a friendship.”

He added: “There are certain things our two countries are fighting over but let others deal with political issues.

“Us normal Indian and Pakistani people we can form the roots of a bigger friendship through cricket.”

Vyas’s friend, Piyush Somaiya, echoed those sentiments.

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Somaiya, who was wearing a court jester hat in the Indian colours, said the players set an example themselves by being friends off the pitch.

“This is the biggest rivalry in cricket, no matter if it is men, women or Under-19,” he said.

“Yet unlike rival football club supporters we are sitting together. There is a lot of banter, then again good banter and that is fun.

“At the same time we appreciate a good shot by an opposing player and they do as well which is nice to see.”

The 43-year-old accountant, who had travelled up with his wife and two young sons from near London, also believes the women’s game will get a big boost from making its Games debut in Birmingham.

“Getting it into the Commonwealth Games is a great idea,” he said.

“This will give women’s cricket a boost. It will be onwards and upwards in the future. Can you believe it is almost a sell-out at a Test match ground.”

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