Four years after Pakistani gunmen laid siege to India’s financial capital of Mumbai, South Asia’s bitter rivals were meeting again on the cricket pitch, marking a gradual thaw in their decades-old rivalry.
The first bilateral series between India and Pakistan since November 2007, comprising two Twenty20 matches and three one-day internationals, began on Christmas Day with a Twenty20 match in the southern Indian city of Bangalore.
Pakistan won the match with five wickets to spare after India posted a disappointing 133-9.
Thousands of cricket fans began lining up outside Bangalore’s massive Chinnaswamy Stadium nearly five hours before the match was to begin.
“This match is like no other. There’s a special thrill to a match where India faces Pakistan,” said Ravinder Singh, his loyalties evident from the Indian flag colors painted on his cheeks.
“I’m telling my friends it will be worth the wait,” said Singh, a college student, as he stood in a slow-moving line outside the stadium. Some of his friends were in the sky blue shirts of the Indian team.
Security was tight with thousands of paramilitary soldiers and police outside the stadium. Groups of police carried out body searches before allowing fans into the stadium after they had gone through metal detectors.
Unflustered by the tight security, fans carried flags and pro-India banners while a few sported colorful wigs and face-paint.
Analysts see the cricket series as a sign the two sides are ready to move past the bitterness that followed the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, when 10 Pakistan-based gunmen killed 166 people in a three-day rampage across the city.
India blamed the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group for the attacks and demanded that Islamabad crack down on terrorism.
Despite a long history of mutual distrust and animosity, the love of cricket is one of the few things the countries agree upon.
Relations have improved since the Mumbai attacks and diplomatic ties have been renewed, but New Delhi remains unsatisfied with the slow pace of Islamabad’s efforts to bring the perpetrators of the attacks to justice.
New Delhi froze nearly all contact with Islamabad after the attacks, a hiatus that has been bridged in recent years by India and Pakistan playing matches at neutral venues or in international tournaments such as the World Cup.
On the pitch, half-centuries by Pakistan’s Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik guided their side home after the visitor’s had made a rocky start in pursuit of the 134 they needed for victory. Indian debutant Bhuvneshwar Kumar dismissed both openers cheaply on his way to figures of 4-0-9-3, but a 106-run partnership by Malik and Hafeez sealed India’s fate.
Additional reporting by staff writer