Virat Kohli gifts his bat to Mohammad Amir before the high-voltage clash: On Thursday afternoon, one could see hordes of human heads queuing in front of the Eden Gardens in quest for tickets for Saturday’s mega clash against arch rivals Pakistan. Although the C.A.B officials had proclaimed a few days ago that no tickets will be sold from the counter, the sports-frenzied people of Kolkata were frantic to grab the tickets at any cost, even if they were required to purchase black-marketed tickets at five times the original price. As I walked along BBD Bagh (the road that leads to the iconic stadium), I saw a middle-aged man approach me with a couple of tickets in his right hand and asked me whether I would like to buy them. Those were the tickets for Saturday’s high-profile game and I asked him what price he would quote for them. ‘’500 ke ticket ke liye 2000 dijiye aur 1000 ke liye 3400. Baaki black-waalo se saste me hi de raha hoon’’, was the man’s reply. Just as I was advancing to make a reply, a young man came panting from behind and said to the black-marketer in a gasping tone almost, ‘’Bhaiya mujhe tickets dijiye. Main 500 waale ke liye 3000 dene ke liye bhi taiyaar hoon’’.
Such has been the exhilaration among the public of Kolkata to be part of Saturday’s mouth-watering contest from the time the venue of the game was shifted from Dharamsala to Kolkata owing to security concerns.
Amusingly, the proceedings inside the stadium have been a stark contrast to the soaring demand for tickets outside. Players from either camp (India and Pakistan) have been engaged in intense practice sessions at the venue before taking to the field on Saturday evening. While Ravichandran Ashwin made some goofy remarks at the press conference yesterday in trademark Ashwin manner which mingles rationality with conceits, India’s ace batsman Virat Kohli offered a moment to cherish when he gifted Pakistan’s premier left arm pacer Mohammed Amir one of his bats during a pre-match practice session. Kohli, who has embraced Amir’s return to the international arena with open arms, has yet again reaffirmed his support for Amir with this pleasant gesture. He also had a vigorous chat with Pakistan’s captain Shahid Afridi, who was standing right next to Amir. The 27 year old Indian limited overs vice-Captain won the hearts of innumerable fans from across the border when he walked up to Amir and congratulated him on the latter’s successful retort to the international showground after India’s triumph over Pakistan in the round robin stage of the recently concluded Asia Cup. Kohli battled out a hostile spell from Amir and Mohammed Irfan before he put India on course for victory with a gritty knock of 49 runs. Amir was the pick of the Pakistani bowlers in that game as he finished with figures of 3/18. ‘’He is a very skilful bowler and I wish him all the best. He has worked hard to come this far and it takes a lot of courage’’, Kohli had said of Amir prior to the commencement of the Asia Cup in Bangladesh. Amir has had to face staunch criticism from different quarters, including many of his teammates since he was redrafted into the Pakistani squad for their tour to New Zealand after the 23 year old pacer’s five year ban for spot fixing in a Test against England at LORD’S in 2010 was lifted in September last year. The sheer solidarity exhibited by the two sides is certain to dwindle away when the two sides lock horns with each other in what is the most eagerly awaited game of the tournament.
While Pakistan has never managed to win any World Cup fixture against India, the hosts have never been able to defeat Pakistan at the Eden Gardens. Having experienced a shock defeat against New Zealand on the Super 10 opener on Tuesday, India will need to fire on all cylinders on Saturday if they want to keep their tournament hopes afloat..