World Cup final: Can India win fetch brownie points for Modi regime?
Temperature soars in Ahmedabad in anticipation of a third cricket World Cup victory for India, but it isn't just about cricket
With less than 48 hours to go for cricket’s biggest match-up, the countdown to the India-Australia World Cup final has begun in right earnest in Ahmedabad. The local administration, meanwhile, is in a tizzy as it gears up for a likely visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to watch the action at the stadium named after him.
A report in Times Now suggests that the prime minister, Union home minister Amit Shah, and chief ministers of eight states will be attending the event, without mentioning the states. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has invited PM Modi and his Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese to attend, though the latter may be represented by deputy PM Richard Miles.
Earlier this year, Modi and Albanese had visited the new-look stadium, which at 110,000 is the highest-capacity cricket venue in the world, for the fourth Test match between the same rivals. However, a Test series and the 50-over World Cup are like chalk and cheese, if memories of the 1983 triumph which revolutionised the growth of cricket in the country and the euphoria after the 2011 triumph is any indication.
The wave of strident nationalism that a major cricketing achievement can generate — coupled with the possibility of ending over a decade's wait for a major International Cricket Council (ICC) trophy — could well help the BJP score brownie points on the eve of an election year. Much like Chandrayaan 3, attempts will likely be made to turn it into a shot in the arm for Brand India.
The evening of 19 November, meanwhile, will also be high on the glamour quotient with Dua Lipa, the British multiple-Grammy winner, featuring in the closing ceremony of the tournament. No prizes for guessing that there will be a star shower as far as the cricketing fraternity is concerned, with both India’s former World Cup-winning captains Kapil Dev and Mahendra Singh Dhoni among the invitees.
Meanwhile, the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in Ahmedabad has dressed up for the occasion to welcome a stream of fans from across the country — along with a smattering of Australians. Two photo op stands, one offering a chance for a shoot with a replica of the winners’ trophy and the other in front of a giant three-dimensional cutout of the trophy, greeted visitors, while a small kiosk was doing brisk sales of India shirts.
Asked if reports of spiralling airfares and hard-to-get tickets were a deterrent, Anshuman Singh and his brother Ayushman, who landed from Kolkata, said advance planning helped them beat the rush. "We did the flight and accommodation bookings back in August once the fixtures were out. A number of our friends will be joining us today, and and we are out to have a good time on Sunday,’’ said Anshuman, an engineer with Tata Consultancy Services.
An isolated yellow shirt, who flew in from Kolkata after seeing his team scrape through a close, low-scoring thriller against South Africa the night before, begged to differ. ‘’We will make it six titles in a row,’’ he hollered for the benefit of a TV crew as he struck a pose by holding the replica cup aloft.
British duo as umpires
Meanwhile, the ICC has named the British duo of Richard Illingworth and Richard Kettleborough as on-field umpires for the final. Joel Wilson will be the third umpire, Chris Gaffaney the fourth official and the match referee is Andy Pycroft, all of whom were a part of the officiating teams in the semi-finals.
This will be the second occasion that Kettleborough will be out in the middle of the showpiece after the 2015 final in Melbourne. Incidentally, both are previous winners of the David Shepherd Trophy, awarded to ICC’s Umpire of the Year.