India and Pakistan watched the World Cup cricket semi-final together in a little room in China without a single Chinese person in the audience.
The boundaries were drawn for Beijing's night of cricket diplomacy accompanied by Zaheer-Afridi mutton biryani. The businessmen from Pakistan
Indian players celebrate their victory over Pakistan in the Cricket World Cup semifinal match in Mohali.
wearing the national team's signature green t-shirts were ushered to the front rows at the Taj Pavilion Indian restaurant.
In a country far removed from the world of cricket, fiercely divided fans had no choice but to amicably watch the match together. China's national television does not broadcast the matches and public access to satellite TV is restricted. What World Cup, ask even upcoming Chinese cricketers.
We followed a slow online broadcast delayed one over behind the live television watched by a billion viewers on the subcontinent. The Pakistan table with wifi-activated phones streaming the scores faster, couldn't resist forecasting that Tendulkar was on his way out. The Indians went into a sulk. "Okay, this is his last ball,'' they repeated. Tendulkar walked out and the 20 men from Pakistan roared while the 70 Indians fell silent. A diplomatic word was passed around the rows of rivals confined for the nationalist night. No heckling.
Then the Internet crashed. The manager clambered on a ladder blocking the screen and fiddled with cables in a long interruption that allowed passions to cool. An intermittent Internet feed is better than nothing when you are isolated in China on the day of an India-Pakistan cricket match. Nobody complained. People got busy topping up the biryani with Doosra raita.
Pakistan and India were sharing jokes by the second innings when the runs slowed to singles. "We need only one run per ball to win anyway,'' the Pakistan side feigned confidence. It was past midnight in Beijing when Afridi made us nervous. The lights were switched off across the hotel except for this restaurant. A sleepy Chinese waiter served trays of strong chai.
At the moment of victory, there were only Indians shouting Ganpati Bappa Morya and jumping up and down to Sheela ki Jawani in the little room in China.
In the 28th over, the Pakistan side had quietly walked out.