India vs Australia: Cricket World Cup final fever soars in Ahmedabad

Excitement builds in Ahmedabad as unbeaten hosts get set to face Australia in the ICC Cricket World Cup final.

Cricket fans perform rituals for the victory of the Indian team
Cricket fans perform rituals for the victory of the Indian team in Ahmedabad [Ajit Solanki/AP Photo]

Mumbai and Ahmedabad, India – It is a case of not just all roads, but all rail lines, air routes – and, who knows, tunnels and teleporters – leading to Ahmedabad, where an unprecedented number of home fans are hoping to be there in the flesh to watch India take on Australia in the Cricket World Cup final.

If they can get into the ground, that is.

On the morning train from Mumbai on Saturday, packed with cricket travellers, every phone conversation seemed to carry the words, “He’s asking for too much” or “I’ll get back to you” or “We need two more.”

One passenger showed Al Jazeera a black market ticket dealer’s asking prices on a WhatsApp chat.

A presidential gallery ticket was listed at Rs 467,000 ($5,600), more than twice the country’s annual median per capita income.

Less fancy tickets were being traded for Rs 60,000 upwards, 20 or 30 times the printed price.

Even those with tickets in hand could scarcely contain their frustration at the shambolic rollout by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), run by Jay Shah, son of India’s Home Minister Amit Shah.

There have been no declarations about what proportion of tickets have been put on public sale. Some travellers had tickets just because they knew a person at the booking portal, giving them a workaround to the endless online queues that would have likely ended in failure.

Meanwhile, rooms in leading hotels in the city are going for 200,000 rupees ($2,400) a night. Up to 200 charter flights are expected to fly in. To return to Mumbai, the nearest megalopolis, since flights and trains are sold out, people are hunting for buses to charter back at exorbitant rates.

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In Ahmedabad, business picked up in the predictable sectors.

“I’ve had customers from London, Goa, Pune, and Mumbai in the last few hours,” said Vijay Dave, a taxi driver.

“Cinemas that are going to show the match – even those tickets are sold out! The road outside the Indian team hotel was totally jammed this morning. Everyone had gathered there to catch sight of the team. People have gone mad.”

There is a touch of Beatlemania, the fanaticism surrounding the English rock band the Beatles in the 1960s, around the Indian cricket team even at the worst of times. The team’s undefeated run in the competition has escalated the frenzy.

Crowds have been waiting outside stadiums for hours after the matches finish to wave the players off.

It was no different near the gates of the Narendra Modi Stadium on Saturday, as people congregated on streets lined with vendors selling knockoffs of the ubiquitous blue jersey for Rs 200.

People sell cricket merchandise at Narendra Modi stadium
Vendors sell cricket merchandise at Narendra Modi Stadium [Ajit Solanki/AP Photo]

Rohit Sharma, the Indian captain, was well cognisant of the expectations.

“Emotionally it’s a big thing, a big occasion, without a doubt,” he told the press on Saturday evening. “Whatever hard work and dreams you have, you have for this. And tomorrow that day will be in front of us. But see, the biggest challenge for professional athletes is how you can put all this aside and focus on their work.”

All through his press interaction, he stressed that he would like to keep it “nice and easy”, “nice and relaxed and calm”, “nice and balanced”.

On the other side, Australian captain Pat Cummins was asked: “A hundred thousand people wanting you to fail is probably something new?”

“I think you’ve got to embrace it,” he replied. “In sport, there’s nothing more satisfying than hearing a big crowd go silent and that’s the aim for us tomorrow.”

If Cummins expects “a very one-sided” crowd, part of the reason is BCCI’s delays in releasing the itinerary – it was finalised a mere two months before the first game – and the subsequent ticket sagas.

Two busloads of Australians were spotted making a guided tour of the city, visiting spots such as the Gandhi Ashram. There won’t be too many like them.

By night, the crowd of India fans outside the stadium had only grown. They were watching the drone show rehearsal, one act in a closing ceremony that will resemble a somewhat nationalistic variety show as much as a sporting finale.

Between the toss and the start of play, the Indian Air Force will perform a nine-aircraft aerobatic show.

The innings break will see a mini concert, no doubt featuring a few patriotic renditions. A stadium favourite throughout the competition has been “Maa Tujhe Salam” (“I Salute You, Mother India).

A light-and-laser spectacle is slated for a drinks interval at night. Earlier in the tournament, Australian batter Glenn Maxwell had complained of the disorienting effects of plunging a stadium in darkness mid-match.

“It takes me a while for my eyes to readjust and I just think it’s the dumbest idea for cricketers,” Maxwell had said.

Cricket fans gather outside Narendra Modi stadium
Cricket fans gather outside Narendra Modi Stadium before the final [Ajit Solanki/AP Photo]

In attendance will be Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles.

The last time Modi attended a cricket match was also in Ahmedabad, and that too against Australia, in March.

The toss then was delayed as he rode around the outfield with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in a motorised chariot to gushing television commentary, and was afterwards presented a portrait of himself in a stadium he got named after himself.

He would probably settle for presenting the trophy to the Indian captain this time around. That is something even he cannot control.

But Indian triumph, though not ordained, is widely being seen as a natural consequence of the team’s exquisite showing over the past two months.

In times past Indian fans felt trepidation before a big final.

“For once, that sense of nervousness is not there,” said one fan.

“This is a special team and we know that.”

Source: Al Jazeera