Rates soar for Indo-Pak cricket, few takers for hockey

With Pakistan’s fortunes on the field dwindling in both sports, their army of committed fans set to turn to Oval without high hopes

Published: 18th June 2017 06:05 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th June 2017 06:20 AM   |  A+A-

India's captain Virat Kohli right and Pakistan's captain Sarfraz Ahmed pose for a picture with the trophy at the Oval cricket ground in London Saturday June 17 2017. | AP

Express News Service

LONDON: Two former colonies of Britain will face each other in a game introduced by them in London. The Oval, the first venue to stage a Test match, also hosted FA Cup finals for 20 years in the late part of 19th century apart from rugby union matches.

Sunday will see India and Pakistan take a shot at the Champions Trophy. Though tickets are sold out, websites are active reselling at inflated rates of up to £1500. In comparison, the highest priced ticket for the Champions League final cost €440 (£385).

Though a vast majority of Indian and Pakistani expats will head for the Oval, the scene at Olympic Park about eight miles away will be in stark contrast. It’s India vs Pakistan over there in a sport that is literally their own, that has fetched India 11 and Pakistan 8 Olympic medals, before the nations got consumed by cricket.

Unlike the Oval, tickets here are not yet sold out, with the cheapest being £25 and the most expensive £30. The World Hockey League Semifinal organisers believe they will be sold by the time the match starts.

At the UCL campus in North of London, there is already an atmosphere building, with friends invited for “screenings.” This is Ramadan month and most of them are fasting, but that isn’t stopping them from stacking food and drinks for the big day.

Credit to some Indian fans too, as after understanding that their Pakistani friends are fasting, they too have at times refrains from eating, in solidarity.

When Wazir Khan Virk moved to London nine months back, this was the last thing on his mind. The last cricket match he saw from the stadium, prior to the one in Edgbaston against South Africa, was in 2006 in Lahore against India. There is excitement among fans who have not been able to buy tickets.

“We can’t afford and that’s why we planned a screening. We got permission from the college and it’s going to be fun,” Virk says.

For the screening, they originally didn’t have plans for the hockey fixture. Most of them were unaware of it. Though tension between the two cricketing teams is not like what it used to be in the 90s, the scene is significantly different on the hockey field.

During the 2014 Champions Trophy held in Bhubaneswar, Pakistan players made obscene gestures to the crowd after defeating India in the semifinal and since then, tension between the two has only escalated. Hockey India has refused to play bilateral events with Pakistan until they apologise for that incident and didn’t even invite them for the Junior Hockey World Cup in Lucknow last year.

Like cricket, Pakistan’s graph on the field of hockey is also on the descent, and although India hasn’t done great either, it is at least witnessing signs of development. Though it has taken years to wake up, they are making rapid strides and the World League Semifinal will give the side another opportunity to ensure they make their mark among the elite.

India have been on a high so far in the World League, having defeated Scotland and Canada in their opening two matches. The latter, for the record, had beaten Pakistan 6-0 on Friday and it was their second straight loss after a 0-4 hiding against the Netherlands.

India favourites vs Pakistan: Saha

India have ticked all the boxes in the ongoing Champions Trophy and it’s no surprise that they would get past Pakistan to retain the title, Test wicketkeeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha said. “Barring one match (against Sri Lanka) India have done well in every department and they are overall favourites. It’s no surprise, you ask anyone, he or she will put India in the hot seat tomorrow,” Saha said on the sidelines of a CAB first division league match.


venkatakrishna@newindianexpress.com

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