From the time the spectators at the Dhyan Chand National Stadium sang the National anthem in unison, the “jaya he, jaya he, jaya he” chant a motivating crescendo for the home team, to the disciplined manner in which they exited, it was clear that matured spectatorship had arrived in the Capital.
The India-Pakistan match in the World Cup on Sunday was played in excellent spirit. There was not a soul sitting when the Pakistan National anthem was played.
The small bunch of Pakistan supporters responded with equal warmth. And then the atmosphere assumed electrifying proportions, the arena transformed to host a grim contest.
The Pakistan fans, one of them carrying a placard ‘Happy Holi to all Indians from Pakistan', were moved to a “safer” area in the southern stands when the police apparently sensed trouble. But nothing untoward happened.
It was a pleasant departure from the past acrimony among the spectators. A small group tried the “Pakistan hai, Pakistan hai” refrain but it died for want of support. The vocal chords were stretched only to support an India move and the roar when the host slammed in the fourth goal may have reached Lahore.
Some incidents in the past had shown the spectators of either camp in poor light. If the Indians received a rough welcome at the Lahore World Cup, the behaviour was no different when the Pakistan team left the Shivaji Stadium after a victory some years ago, with stones being thrown at the team bus.
The spectators have now come to realise that an India-Pakistan sporting encounter is nothing more than that; just a game.
These were different spectators and sitting in the stands one could feel the pulse of the hockey lover. Every good move was applauded. The best part was some stars of the national team were quickly recognised too. Ignace Tirkey and Jugraj Singh must have been pleasantly surprised by the response they got from the spectators surrounding them. Zafar Iqbal was visibly moved when two senior police officers rushed forward to shake his hand when they discovered his identity.
The profile of the audience said a lot. There were young girls, mothers carrying infants and even a few elderly ladies, rooting for Rajpal Singh and his men in their opening match of this World Cup. At the Sector 42 Stadium in Chandigarh, the sight of a family turning up to watch a game of hockey is no surprise. But in Delhi it does!
That there were no incidents spoke highly of not only the efficient organisation but also the character of the audience. The colourful ambience jelled with the knowledgeable audience that loved its hockey through the afternoon and well into the night.
An impromptu ‘bhangra' by a few young Englishmen was a nice way to sign off, as if to reconfirm the fervour that comes when watching a sporting event without any prejudices.