1997 was the first time I ever set foot on Indian soil.
A blonde 22 year old Australian cricketing know-it-all cluelessly wandering into a quickly changing sub continent.
Before then, the only place I has ever been overseas was New Zealand. That’s like being American and saying you visited the Canadian side of Niagara falls. It doesn’t really count.
MA Chidambaram Stadium was hosting the 6th ODI in a series between India and Pakistan. I decided to go along.
My senses were smacked in the face like Harbhajan swinging at Sreesanth. My eyes witnessed Saeed Anwar make a then world record 194 in a then world record score of 327. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure if either were a world record, but let’s just run with it.
India couldn’t chase it down.
Not entirely unexpected given the target, but I did not predict the reaction of the locals.
Screaming, abuse, tears and random guns going off in the street post match. I even saw a mob burning an Indian flag.
It meant something to so many people.
For this gora, I didn’t get it.
I’d never burnt an Australian flag when we lost The Ashes, let alone some meaningless random ODI.
But I’m Australian. I am not Indian. I am not Pakistani. Perhaps I don’t understand true rivalry?
Manchester United fans hate Liverpool. Everyone hates the New England Patriots and the Yankees and George W Bush.
But not in the way I saw this steamy night in Madras.
At that time there was no way us non Asians had any clue what the India v Pakistan rivalry meant to about two billion people combined.
But I sense things may have changed in the nearly 20 years since then.
These two teams just don’t play each other anymore. Some of the reasons why are perhaps legitimate. Most are political.
I watched Pakistan slaughter Bangladesh in their opening ICC World Twenty20 match at Calcutta.
Anti hero Afridi took us back to how he probably played in 1997. He was probably 16 then, just as he is now.
Eden Gardens was bustling. The crowd was not particularly partisan. Instead, there was no mistaking their pro Pakistan stance.
Indian nationals. Those raised to despise cricketers in green uniforms were actively cheering for them. Not with golf claps, but with raucous screams and applause and chants.
But how does this make any sense?
Anfield would never cheer for Ryan Giggs.
As an outsider, I have chosen to believe that basic humanity had won the day. The green shirts are no longer a despised enemy. They have been upgraded to a respected foe.
An unintended consequence of annoying politics perhaps?
India and Pakistan will once again face off on Indian soil this weekend.
I can guarantee that Saeed Anwar will not make 194. But I can’t guarantee that the crowd will ignore the wonderful feats of his contemporaries.
I won’t even try to believe that I understand what this fixture means to so many people. But I am certain that it means something different to what it did in 1994.
And for that, as a white non Asian cricket lover, I am truly grateful.
Feature image source: AFP