Image Credit: International Cricket Council via X

Fever-pitch cricket

On October 14, 2023, one of the most storied rivalries in the history of sport took center stage when India and Pakistan clashed at Ahmedabad. If cricket fever hadn’t hit the roof yet, it most definitely did after this match with half a billion people estimated to tune in.

Halfway around the world in Berkeley, California, the 12-and-a-half-hour time difference wasn’t a deterrent for members of Cal Cricket, UC Berkeley’s premier cricket club. The predominantly South Asian undergraduate and graduate student cricketers profess a fanatic devotion to the game. In keeping with their zeal, the cricket enthusiasts congregated at an apartment in Downtown Berkeley for the 1:30 a.m. start time. As a cricket fanatic myself, I decided to join the club in celebrating this carnival of cricket. Highlights follow!

The best seats in the house during Cal Cricket’s Oct 14 India – Pakistan watch party.

A cricket watch party

Cal Cricket members start trooping in around 1:20 a.m., and there’s a palpable air of anticipation around the room. “Watch parties like this one are great to build camaraderie within the club and help bring both Indian and Pakistani cricket fans on campus together,” says Aly Jassani, the treasurer of the Cal Cricket Club, as he scrambles to find an HDMI cable to hook the laptop up to the TV screen.

The National Championship-winning Cal Cricket team of 2023.

Apart from organizing watch parties for marquee matches such as this one, the club also conducts recreational cricket tournaments on campus and fields a full-strength professional team that represents UC Berkeley in collegiate cricket tournaments across the country. In 2022-23, the Cal Cricket Professional Team won the National Championship in Houston, Texas. For the 2023-24 season, they begin their title defense next month in Los Angeles, where they will play Regionals.

Fanning cricket fandom

Preparations are underway in earnest but tonight, they are on hold. Tonight is not a team meeting to dissect practice sessions or plan strategies. Tonight is purely a celebration of their cricket fandom.

While Indian supporters are in the majority, supporters of Pakistan are hoping that their team’s pace-bowling arsenal fires today. “I feel like it’s Shaheen’s day today,” says Haris, a computer science student from Pakistan. India wins the toss and decides to field first. Pakistan’s Imam ul-Haq and Abdullah Shafique take guard as the Indian fielders led by Rohit Sharma take the field.

India v Pakistan live updates

Over 0.1: Pakistan 0-0

Bumrah has the ball in hand and runs in to bowl a length ball to Shafique. The spectacle is underway!

The first few overs are uneventful, anti-climactically so, and soon the excited “oohs” and “aahs” of the viewers give way to tangential catch-up conversations with friends and classmates.

Over 7.6: Pakistan 41-1

India gets the breakthrough as Siraj traps Abdullah in his crease! A loud cheer erupts as the potentially dangerous opening partnership is broken. But that wicket brings the talismanic Babar Azam to the crease…

An enterprising cricket fan has specially procured Cocomo, a popular Pakistani snack, from a Pakistani grocery store in Sacramento for this occasion.

What started out as a motley group of ten spectators has now ballooned to more than forty students packed in the viewing area. As the innings progresses, Indian and Pakistani snacks are passed around and the inevitable discussions about team selections begin. “I don’t get why Ashwin wasn’t picked,” said Shubhankar Naik, a sophomore who keeps wicket for the club’s professional team. “On a pitch like this, Ashwin plays ahead of Thakur any day!” Murmurs of agreement mount as Babar and Imam look more comfortable with each ball.

Over 12.3: Pakistan 61-2

Pandya draws the outside edge from Imam as he wafts at a ball angling away from him.

Loud cheers reverberate around the lounge but the Pakistani corner – a section of the couch where four Pakistani supporters are seated – is not too impressed.

The Pakistani corner sporting different Pakistan jerseys from over the years.

Over 29.4: Pakistan 155-3

Fifty and then no more. Siraj gets the breakthrough as the Pakistani captain Babar Azam is bowled off a length delivery after reaching his half-century.

It’s almost 4 a.m., but the gathering at the watch party has barely thinned. Applause, hoots, and fist pumps continue to punctuate each four, six, and wicket. The noise attracts complaints from other residents, as well as a couple of police officers who come a-knocking. Jainil Ajmera, a senior who also is the vice-captain of the professional team, urges everyone to tone down their celebrations, but it remains to be seen how effective the request will be…

Ajmera retreats to the back of the lounge to confer with his captain, Gautam Anand. The chat has nothing to do with the noise complaint but with their forecasts for Pakistan’s innings. Anand asks if Pakistan will pass 300. Ajmera thinks for a few seconds, then simply shakes his head and says, “I think they will make exactly 263.” Before Anand can ask why that precise number, there is a joyful cheer.

Almost on cue, Kuldeep Yadav picks up two wickets in an over! Soon, Bumrah cleans up two more. Pakistan in a spot of bother…

Over 35.2: Pakistan 171-7

Kuldeep Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah have gutted the Pakistani middle order, picking up two scalps each. From 155 for 2, Pakistan slides to 171 for seven!

Vikash Makani, new ball bowler for the National Championship-winning team of 2023, turns to me and says, “You can never write off a Pakistan collapse!”

Towards the back of the viewing area, senior members of the club are constantly revising their projections for Pakistan’s total.

Over 42.5: Pakistan 191 all out

Jadeja picks up the final wicket and Pakistan is bundled out for less than 200 runs.

Between innings, the crowd at the watch party thins – for the few Pakistani fans, watching the Indian innings is a torturous proposition; for Indian fans, the target seems small enough to be unexciting. It is fast approaching 5 a.m. and with it, the window to get some sleep and salvage sleep cycles shrinks. By the time Gill and Rohit take the field, only nine of us – the most die-hard fans – remain.

Over 0.1: India 4-0

Shaheen Shah Afridi bowls his trademark in-swinger to the right-hander but errs in his line, drifting the ball into Sharma’s pads. The Indian captain latches onto it in a flash and languidly flicks it to the square leg boundary for four.

Meanwhile, the remaining cricket nerds waste no time diving into cricket conversations that seem like stream-of-consciousness ramblings but are perfectly decipherable and invigorating to others of their ilk. “Ish Sodhi isn’t in the New Zealand squad? Why not play Santner at 7 and then Sodhi at 8?”; “The way Heinrich Klaasen took down Rashid Khan in the IPL was the cleanest hitting I’ve seen…,”; “Are there really no specialist finger-spinners left anymore?”

Over 9.5: India 79-2

Kohli finds mid-on as he tries to bunt a length ball over the bowler’s head. India is two down, having lost Gill earlier, but still in a commanding position, going hammer and tongs at the target of 192.

“I think there should be only six Test-playing nations and they should open T20s to the associate nations…”; “Do Ranji players get paid enough?”

Over 21.4: India 156-3

Sharma mistimes a stroke to midwicket and falls 14 runs short of a majestic hundred. KL Rahul joins Iyer at the crease. The target is very much within sight.

The group now turns their attention back to the TV, egging Iyer and Rahul to score the remaining runs quickly and finish the match because even the most cricket-hungry fan eventually succumbs to drowsiness.

Over 30.3: India 192-3

Iyer lofts a ball down the ground to bring up his fifty and also a famous Indian victory. India now leads 8-0 against Pakistan in World Cup encounters.

After exchanging fist bumps all around, the last few fans stretch their legs, gather their things, and make their way out onto the street. It’s well into the morning now and the cool air helps rouse them. Some are yawning while others still have the energy to consider a trip to McDonald’s to get food. Everyone seems thoroughly satisfied after spending an entire night at the temple of cricket, indulging in the masterful strokeplay of Babar, the immaculate timing off Rohit’s bat, the chaotic precision of Jasprit’s run-up, and the gracefully bending trajectory of Shaheen’s inswinger.

The match was played between India and Pakistan, but cricket fandom won – the very fandom that unites more than a billion South Asians across borders.

You can follow Cal Cricket on Instagram, and donate towards their crowdfunding campaign here!

Tanay Gokhale is a Community Reporter at India Currents through the California Local News Fellowship cohort of 2023. Born and raised in Nashik, India, he moved to the United States for graduate study in...