INDIA 2023

By K.R. Nayar
From Narendra Modi Stadium

Ahmedabad.  Walk, run, or crawl — somehow everyone wants to get to their seats at the Narendra Modi Stadium to witness the final. As I stepped out of my hotel room as early as 7.30am, all I saw was groups of people wearing Team India jerseys ready to go to stadium. They walked out, not with “bag and baggage,” but with flags and placards.

Dharamveer Pal, who is pralaysed from his waist down, is here to watch the final 

For those complaining about the walk to the stadium and the climb up of hundreds of steps in this 130,000-capacity venue, I met a man with no legs who had come for the final. Years ago, I had featured Dharamveer Pal who hails from Madhya Pradesh,  in an article, and he called out to me while waiting in the shade near the stadium. A polio attack when he was 18 months old had left him paralyzed from his waist down. However, this hasn’t deterred him from attending the final. He is such a big fan of the game that he travels to almost all possible cricket venues. “I have been given tickets by Team India,” he said, carrying a photo of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virender Sehwag with him. He even plays for the Differently Abled cricket team.

An old photo of Dharamveer with Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virender Sehwag

Today, for the fans, nothing is more precious than the match ticket. The way they held onto it was akin to holding onto ones dear life. I requested a fan for a photo of their ticket for the finals, which they claimed they would preserve for a lifetime. I have requests from many friends asking me to pick up any ticket left on the floor after the match.  The minimum price for a final ticket is Rs 2000, but there are takers even at Rs 40,000.

The final match ticket that everyone wants to preserve for a lifetime 

Pre-match press conferences, especially when overcrowded, are tough to handle. Unfortunately, some journalists refused to follow the rule of switching off their mobiles. Despite requests from the ICC media manager Sipokazi Sokanyile, some did not, and various ringtones, some of them being film songs, were heard while Indian skipper Rohit Sharma spoke. Since journalists hardly follow the rules, it’s high time jammers are fixed in press conference rooms.

The procession of fans towards the stadium 

The media bus drive to the venue was filled with suspense. Crowds had already started spilling into the roads. Our bus had a shrieking horn that got people on the road to jump out of the way. Many cars with requests for tickets went past the bus.

Two tickets please, a request from inside a car 

It wasn’t just the roads that were full; the sky seemed full as well. Planes were seen landing every five minutes, with many arriving in private jets. Thirty special trains were assigned to bring in fans, causing the railway stations to overflow. Taxis and three-wheelers made a killing by charging high rates. Just as fit the cricketers had to be, turnstiles too had to turn for the 130,000 spectators. The lifts were overworked, with journalists and commentators sharing the same lift. On the way to the press box, I happened to bump into Gavaskar and Mohammad Kaif.

Turnstiles that turned over 100,000 times 

They say that behind every successful man is a woman. In the case of Team India and their good show, it seems to be a dietician. Indian cricketers have been asked by their dietician to steer clear of fried food and sweets, which this city is famous for. Being the final match, sweet shops on the way were seen offering huge discounts, extending their Diwali sales.

Sir Viv for the Tiger Pataudi Memorial Lecture 

Viv Richards, the man who has won the hearts of World Cup fans in the past, is here. He will be speaking at the Tiger Pataudi Memorial Lecture three days after the match. Like he used to surprise bowlers with his shots, it is quite likely he may come up with some interesting revelations during the talk.

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