World Cup diary: The show of the Shahs, walking through an ocean of security men with air force planes zooming over head
By K.R. Nayar From Narendra Modi Stadium
Ahmedabad: Being at a World Cup final venue the day before the final is an extraordinary experience, especially if it happens to be in India, and India is playing in the final. The organizers are well aware that all eyes of the cricketing world will be on this stadium when it joins the list of venues that have hosted a World Cup final. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) secretary, Jay Shah, son of Amit Shah, India’s Minister of Home Affairs, is eager to ensure that the event and the closing of the World Cup will undoubtedly make the world appreciate his board’s efforts. The father-son duo are also keen to present this final as a reflection of India’s giant strides in sports, especially as India bids for the 2036 Olympics.
Amit Shah was the president of the Gujarat Cricket Stadium when this stadium was built, and Jay Shah currently heads India’s cricket board. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to attend the final along with Australia's Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Males. Hence, an ocean of security personnel is present at the venue. There are reports that nearly 4,500 policemen are expected to be on duty here, but to me it looks like over 10,000 are already at the venue. Interestingly, most of the policemen were taking selfies in different poses, like the fans, wanting to tell everyone they are on duty here.
The number of vans that whizzed past me as I walked to the media room got me thinking about the number of departments involved in ensuring security in a state. Military personnel came out in hordes, the Crime Branch of Police, bomb disposal vans, and many more. Air force planes flew over the stadium as part of the airshow rehearsal. At times it gives a feeling that one is entering a war zone more than a cricket venue.
Anyone who manages to enter the stadium can consider themselves a VVIP. A large number of schoolboys and girls were among those who gained entry. They were there for the rehearsal of the national anthem, as over a hundred are needed to carry both the Indian and Australian flags along with the ICC flag. It was delightful to write this diary while listening to India’s national anthem being played repeatedly. A musical show is also being planned during the innings break, so another 200 children were seen carrying out drills.
The Australia press conference was held unusually at 10 am to match the Australian time (3 pm), giving newspapers there the chance to publish skipper Pat Cummins’ pre-match comments. For a World Cup final, the cream of journalists from newspapers around the world are present, offering an opportunity to meet colleagues with whom one has worked before. My former sports editor, Gautam Bhattacharyya, and veteran writer Sunil Vaidya are both here.
Journalists from teams that did not make it to the final opted to return to their countries, unlike when the World Cup was held in England. Finding an affordable hotel and flight ticket to Ahmedabad would have been next to impossible. A fan from Bangalore had to shell out Rs 30,000 for his flight to Ahmedabad. It is understood that match tickets are being sold for Rs 400,000!
Pakistani journalist Shahid Hashmi, with whom I have reported over 100 ODIs, is also here. He will be the only Pakistani at the venue. Pakistani journalists, when granted an Indian visa, had a mention that their visa validity expires along with Pakistan’s exit. However, Hashmi was granted permission for a delayed exit.