On what was ultimately a great day for cricket on the field, sadly many will remember it for all the wrong reasons. Pakistan somehow managed to conjure up a narrow win against Afghanistan thanks largely due to some fantastic resilience late in the day from Imad Wasim. But the ugly scenes before, during and after the match at Headingley marred a great cricketing spectacle.
As I arrived at Headingley around 9 AM the sun was just breaking through, there was a relaxed and carnival-like atmosphere, with both sets of fans mingling, waving flags, painting their faces and preparing themselves for what was supposed to be a big party amongst cricket-lovers from both sides. There was a buzz in the air, a sense of anticipation and excitement as young and old Afghans, Pakistanis and neutrals readied themselves for a great day ahead.
Going into the match the rather unnecessary and distasteful words of Interim Afghanistan Cricket Board CEO Asadullah Khan may have been ringing in the ears of the Pakistani players, but on the field there were no incidents of note to report and players from both teams conducted themselves impeccably and set a great example to the fans, sadly an example that a mindless minority did not follow.
As fans settled into their seats, the first sign of trouble came shortly before the start of the match as Afghanistan fans without tickets tried to enter the stadium by breaking though security barriers. This resulted in ugly scenes and a stand-off with security personnel. Security barriers were thrown towards security staff who did their best to control things when confronted with unexpected hostility. The same fans who couldn't overpower security personnel to enter the ground, then took out their frustrations on opposition Pakistani fans as fists were thrown, together with lots of pushing and shoving.
The longer the game went on, the more tense the atmosphere became. There was regular trouble on the Western Terrace to the right of the media box with several fans thrown out for fighting. What began as banter among fans escalated into violence. Fans were taunting each other and what initially appeared to be good-natured banter soon became a case of fists flying and regular interventions by the overworked and, at times, overpowered security staff. Throughout the day there were scenes that had no place at a cricket match.
#WATCH: A scuffle breaks out between Pakistan and Afghanistan fans outside Headingley Cricket Ground in Leeds after an aircraft was flown in the area which had 'Justice for Balochistan' slogan. Leeds air traffic will investigate the matter. pic.twitter.com/mN8yymQOP5
— ANI (@ANI) June 29, 2019
One of the major factors for the trouble was that some ticketless Afghan fans were getting inside the ground by climbing over security fences. Once inside, they would go on to occupy empty seats.
I spoke with some Pakistani fans who said their seats had been occupied by Afghanistan fans when they had gone to purchase food. When they asked the Afghanistan fans who had occupied their seats to kindly vacate them, they started abusing leading to ill tempered atmosphere.
I was approached by three Afghanistan fans who were threatening and looking to pick a fight on the pretence that they were homeless and wanted me to give them money. They then noticed I was wearing a media accreditation pass and changed their mind. It was a close call and just added to my concerns about what was going on at Headingley away from the cricket.
The bright yellow security jackets could be seen all day trying to control things but a lot of the times it was a futile exercise. Security staff tried their best to split the fans up but the number of incidents meant that at times they were overpowered. It was ugly, it was unnecessary, it was not what the great game of cricket was about. Fans were thrown out for access without tickets, fans were thrown out for fighting, fans were thrown out for throwing bottles, was this really a cricket match?
Clash breaks out between Pakistan and Afghanistan fans at Headingley pic.twitter.com/9wNF1TTy8H
— Harshad Patil (@3Dom21) June 30, 2019
Near the end of the match there was a fight involving around 30 fans from both sides. These thugs had no respect or care for other fans, women, children and the elderly as bins, bottles and anything else they could get hold of was thrown around. Once again security staff did what they could but these fans only had one thing in mind and that was to cause mayhem. As missiles were thrown in the direction of the Pakistani fans, one came towards the media box and hit the glass front.
When the match ended a few fans ran onto the pitch and some tried to get near the players. It may well have been fans just wanting to pose for a photo with the cricketers but again it resulted in some ugly confrontations. This was once again a situation that could have ended in an ugly manner. Thankfully there were no injury, but it was another uncomfortable situation.
Imad Wasim and Gulbadan Naib played down the crowd incidents at the post-match press conferences, but both did ask fans to show responsibility and remember that it's just a sport and nothing else. One wonders whether this message will actually be adhered to in future matches between the two nations.
As I drove home, the events on the field were almost out of my mind, what was actually going through my head was just what had gone on earlier in the day off the field. The day's events left a bad taste in my mouth. Having watched cricket for nearly 30 years I had not seen anything like it - it did not feel right, it did not sit well with me, it is something I never want to see again. The gentleman's game at Headingley was ruined by hooligans.