Fever pitch atmosphere for World Cup final

A policeman stands guard inside the Wankhede stadium ahead of the ICC Cricket World Cup final match between India and Sri Lanka in Mumbai.

MUMBAI: Frenzied fans, ticket touts and paramilitary police promised a heady mix of carnival and caution for the cricket World Cup final in Mumbai Saturday between hosts India and South Asian rivals Sri Lanka.

Roads have been blocked around the Wankhede Stadium venue, with some 3,500 police personnel out in force to ensure the safety of the two teams and the 32,000 spectators, who include both countries’ presidents.

The match is Mumbai’s highest-profile sporting event since the 2008 attacks, which saw 10 extremist militants kill 166 people in strikes against landmark targets, including the Taj Mahal Palace hotel where the teams are now staying.

Khaki-clad police with bamboo sticks have been joined by paramilitaries with full body armour and automatic weapons, as coastguard and navy patrols keep a watch on the Arabian Sea and a no-fly zone is imposed over south Mumbai.

Officers will monitor security cameras at the ground, where fans face searches for an extensive list of banned items, including food, drinks and electronic equipment, before entering.

Despite the stringent security, ticket touts have been out in force around the stadium for days, seeking to cash in on the clamour for seats.

Television news channel NDTV said its reporter had been offered black market tickets for the sell-out game for up to $3,300 each.

But with favourites India looking to win the trophy for the first time since 1983, little could dampen the spirit of fans, with everyone from cycle-rickshaw drivers and film stars to prime ministers getting involved in the build-up.

“Keep it up is all I would say. I hope India wins,” said India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who watched the men in blue beat arch rivals Pakistan in Wednesday’s semi-final.

Bollywood film stars, who are expected to be among the crowd, added their encouragement on Twitter, while Indian model Poonam Pandey used the micro-blogging site to justify her pledge to strip naked for the team if they win.

“Any thing for my Country to get Home the World Cup So INDIA Cheer with me That we need 1983 BACK…….” she wrote on Friday.

Many ordinary fans have already got in the party mood, with their faces and hair painted in the saffron, white and green of the Indian tricolor.

Cycle-rickshaw driver Sheru Khan, 35, showed his dedication by riding nearly 1,500 kilometres from his home in northern Uttar Pradesh state to Mumbai after being promised a free ticket by a local politician.

Across the financial hub, businesses were either not opening at all or closing early.

“Most offices in the area are shut, so I won’t get any customers,” said Om Gupta, a 51-year-old stall holder in south Mumbai. “It will hit my business but it’s fine for half a day,” he told AFP.

Ramesh Bhatt, who serves tea to office workers with three other “chaiwallahs”, said the match would eat into their combined earnings of about 4,000 rupees (88 dollars) a day.

“The civic authorities have already told us that we can’t make the chai on the road. We won’t come to work but we don’t have any option,” said the 42-year-old.

Other businesses are expecting a windfall, with some bars charging up to $150 a head for an all-day match package.

“It’s first come, first served,” said Ilyas Khan, who will be behind the bar at Geoffrey’s pub in Mumbai’s Hotel Marine Plaza, where all the World Cup matches have been shown on two big screens.

“There’s likely to be demand because India are in the final. We’ve got 100 covers; 150 including standing. We’ll get 150 easily,” he said.

Fans wanting the atmosphere of a large crowd can also see the match at multiplex cinemas but most will be watching with family and friends.

“I’m excited about it,” said Vipin Vijayan, 40, who works for a shipping firm. “What we saw against Pakistan was just a rehearsal. We know we can do it again.”

 

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