World Cup diary: Of air force drills and all that buzz around Motera
Tickets at black market prices, exorbitant hotel tariff not a dampener for fans converging from across the country
A thundering noise whipped up by the Indian Air Force’s Suryakiran aerobatics team drill jolts a slowly filling up media centre. The two giant flags of India and Australia are shouldered in by rows of children — as part of a meticulous rehearsal for the national anthems to be played ahead of the World Cup final.
Out near the pitch identified for the final — once again a bone of contention as it’s a used pitch, like the one in India’s semi-final in Mumbai — ICC chief pitch curator Andy Atkinson, earlier wrongly reported to have gone back home practically on the eve of the final, keeps an eye as a heavy roller is applied by ground staff of hosts Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA). It’s a typical scenario ahead of a big occasion at the cavernous Narendra Modi Stadium, though the buzz is still not discernible across the city.
For all the history the erstwhile Motera Stadium enjoys as a Test venue, Ahmedabad has never really been known as a city consumed by cricket culture, like Mumbai, or as crazy about the sport as Kolkata. Parthiv Patel, the former India wicket-keeper, used to be its best known export to the Indian team until a certain Jasprit Bumrah broke through the ranks around seven years ago.
The makeover of Motera — at the behest of GCA patrons Prime Minister Modi and home minister Amit Shah — has ensured that all marquee matches are now destined to be held in the city which has the Sabarmati flowing through its heart.
Come tomorrow, not a seat will be empty at this amphitheatre of a stadium with its 130,000 seats, now officially the largest cricket stadium in the world. The craze for tickets, as already reported in the media, has reached fever pitch with a Rs 2,000 ticket going for 10 times the price — while the ones for hospitality boxes are being sold at Rs 50,000.
The scenario is as grim in terms of accommodation, with hotels with minimal facilities charging anything between Rs 8,000 and 10,000 per day. Most five-star properties are also going for the rip-off, with room nights rising to as much as Rs 2 lakh.
Members of the media fraternity, who were here for the India-Pakistan encounter on 14 October, admit they panicked by what they saw last time and played ‘safe’ by booking in advance with premium sums.
A visit to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport brings to view the occasional blue shirt with a ‘Virat’ or a ‘Rohit’ written on the back — signs that Indian fans are converging from different parts of the country. ‘’There is enthusiasm for the World Cup final not only in India, but people from abroad, including places like Dubai, Australia and South Africa, want to come to watch the match,’’ Narendra Somani, president of Hotel and Restaurant Association of Gujarat, said in an interview.
The Sukhois in the air will be on display ahead of the toss on Sunday, while security will be watertight with PM Modi expected as guest of honour along with a posse of VIPs. All in all, it’s going to be a long day tomorrow.