Toronto cricket fans abuzz over India-Pakistan showdown

Hundreds of people braved a chilly morning Wednesday to fill one of the largest student centers at the University of Toronto to witness a historic cricket match.

Hundreds of people braved a chilly morning Wednesday to fill one of the largest student centres at the University of Toronto to witness a historic cricket match between India and Pakistan.

It was the semi-finals of the 10th cricket World Cup, which is held every four years. Played in Mohali, in the Indian state of Punjab, the match was touted as "the final before the final." India won a tight contest, and will meet Sri Lanka in the actual final on Friday.

India, batting first, scored 260, for the loss of nine wickets. Pakistan could only manage 231 before being bowled out.

Pakistan went into the game having never beaten India in cricket world championships. India, on the other hand, has won the World Cup once, back in 1983.

Over a billion people around the world tuned in to watch the game.

The interest in Canada was so intense that the student association at U of T’s Woodsworth College decided to host a live screening of the game at Kruger Hall, starting at 4:30 am.

Sachin Tendulkar of India, right, drives with Kamran Akmal of Pakistan looking on during the cricket World Cup semi-final between Pakistan and India at Punjab Cricket Association Stadium in Mohali, India. (Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

Prior to the event, Hussain Razzak, a senior at U of T's Rotman School of Management, admitted to his excitement. "I haven't slept for four days," he said.

Cricket between India and Pakistan has been an allegory for the tumultuous history of divisions in South Asia. Born out of the ashes of Partition in 1947, the rivalry between India and Pakistan is legendary — the two countries have fought countless wars over the disputed Kashmir region and came very close to a nuclear conflict in 1998.

Mutual suspicion and a history of violence evoke turbulent passions in both countries, and over the decades, that fervour has been felt on the cricket field. Previous encounters between the two teams show an almost even spread of victories and losses — since 2005, Pakistan has won six and India five.

In Canada, the South Asian community was buzzing with anticipation. In addition to the University of Toronto, hundreds gathered in Pakistani teashops in Toronto suburbs like Oakville and Mississauga, and many more were glued to their television screens in Surrey and Burnaby, B.C.

Those present at U of T's Kruger Hall seemed awestruck. Despite the early start, the passion and excitement amongst the fans never waned.

"As you can see, we couldn't go to the game in Mohali," said Sheraz Khan, a junior at the Rotman School of Management. "This is the next best thing."

Everyone was eager to watch Pakistani captain Shahid Afridi take on India’s Sachin Tendulkar. Each player offers a glimpse into the playing style of his side. The erratic, yet superbly gifted Afridi has led the Pakistani team during one of the most tumultuous phases in its checkered history. (Last year, three crucial Pakistani players — test cricket captain Salman Butt and two fast bowlers, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir — were found guilty of breaching the International Cricket Council’s anti-corruption code, and were banned for five to seven years.)

India has fared much better. Tendulkar has been a top run-scorer for over two decades, and reflects the stability of the Indian side. His longevity is matched only by the precision and timing of his stroke-play. His score of 85 in Wednesday’s match proved to be the difference.

"Afridi, Afridi!" shouted Pakistani supporters in Kruger Hall, an ode to their mercurial captain. The Indians in the crowd countered with a rhythmic "Sachin! Sachin!"

With India having won the contest, the Pakistanis were understandably disappointed. But all present agreed that the communal event had been a success.

"There were 400 people here -- the most there's ever been," said Annum Bokhari, president of the Woodsworth College student association.