The gates at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium open at 1.30pm for a 3.30pm start in the match between India and Hong Kong.
There’s a bit of a crowd milling about, and a decent number in the stands. The empty seats look worse than they actually are because this is a big stadium, seating up to 25000.
Once the toss is done, though and news spreads that India are batting first, there’s a steady inflow. The number of blue India shirts in the stands steadily increases, tickets in the AED 45 and 75 categories still being available for the match.
As the sun sets – which is scorching enough in the stands to make one fan observe that a case could be made for the players to be sent back to the dressing-room on the basis of cruelty – the influx increases dramatically.
It is now that families with young children step out in Dubai, and it’s difficult to make an exception, even to watch India play.
The main beneficiaries of the conditions are the company selling chilled water in half-litre bottles and the ice cream stand that does brisk business. As with all things Dubai, however, the pricing of these commodities is a touch confusing.
While 120-ml of top-shelf praline or Belgian chocolate ice cream costs AED 10 (Rs 200) the small bottle of water goes for half that much. But then, in the heat, not everyone can survive on ice-cream alone!
When it’s time for the national anthems, a lovely quiet settles on the ground. The Bollywood numbers being belted out of the high-decibel boom-boxes go silent, the public address announcers stops his “jeetega bhai jeetega …” exhortations and without being told to fans in the stands take bums off seats and stand.
A good many take out their cellphones to try and capture the moment, but for Indians living in Dubai, mainly to earn a living, the first few strains of Jana Gana Mana are enough to set them off. Most tuck their phones back in and put hand to heart.
Image credit: AFP.
“You’re just visiting from India so you may not be able to understand the value of the national anthem like we do,” says Vineet, who works in the hospitality industry. “In terms of people and food and things like that Dubai may be Little India, but for those of us who live here it will never be the same.”
His point is well made, for even a visitor can feel the difference between standing up in a multiplex before a movie and hearing the national anthem and feeling it in your bones, making your hair stand on end in an international venue.
Our friend was not exaggerating about the food though. As soon as play got under way, vendors began to do the rounds plying their wares. The staff hawking food were not all Indian — many Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and others, a mini-Asia Cup in its own — were also on duty.
“Pani puri … bhel puri … sev puri …” was the first instalment and soon enough came the national dish of Mumbai, vada pav.
The Malayalis in the crowd, and there were a fair few, were distinctly unimpressed with the bonda in a bun that cost 10 dirhams, but they were quite happy to pick up packs of the chicken or mutton biryani that followed.
Walking through the aisles behind the stands, one could not help but feel a bit sorry for one stall, however. You would think a health product, a low-fat low-calories snack bar would do well at a sporting event, but you would be wrong.
From the evidence of the day, Asian cricket fans want their heroes to be super fit, but they don’t necessarily subscribe to the same regimen.
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