India v Pakistan - a clash that has become bigger than Cricket World Cup itself

All roads will lead to Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Saturday

A security personnel stands guard at Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on the eve of the India-Pakistan World Cup 2023 match. EPA
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The World Cup started on October 5. But on Saturday, it makes a fresh start. A bit contrived, but brimming with excitement.

India v Pakistan is a rare occurrence in cricket. It comes about once every four years in ODI World Cups. It is happening for the first time in India in any format in seven years. Ahmedabad is hosting Pakistan for the first time after a decade. And all this is coming together at the biggest cricket stadium in the world.

The weight of expectations will be as heavy as the support columns that hold up the towering Narendra Modi Stadium. It is a sight to behold on normal day. But on Friday, it was even more imposing, swarming with thousands of police personnel and security forces, fortifying what is the most precious fixture in cricket, and among the most valuable in all sport.

So valuable, tickets were being offered for dozens of times over their face value. Same with hotel rooms, which are all but sold out.

That was partly because of the delay in announcing the schedule and tickets. A mad scramble for a seat or two at the 132,000 capacity venue became impossible to contain.

The Indian cricket board released another batch of tickets recently, although there is not clarity over whether the match was already a sell-out, as had been reported.

An even bigger issue has been hotel rooms – there simply aren’t enough for cater to the sudden influx of fans. Mediocre rooms are being given out for many times the usual asking rates.

There are a few who anticipated the issues, and planned accordingly. When the fixtures were announced in June, a group of software engineers from Hyderabad – Ranjith, Girish, Pavan and Vamshi – first booked hotel rooms, and then waited for the tickets to drop – which happened just over a month before the start of the World Cup. In hindsight, it was a smart decision.

Fans have gone to extreme lengths to find a spot to stay for two days. Many have ‘booked’ into hospitals for full medical check-ups, to coincide with match timings.

This has led to a peculiar situation; hotel rooms were being offered on the gates of the Narendra Modi Stadium by middlemen on Friday, along with those selling counterfeit India jerseys. Needless to say that last-minute bookings cost a fortune.

But it is a price fans are willing to pay. Exorbitant ticket prices, peculiar accommodations, heavy security … none of it matters.

The sense of occasion becomes apparent when you board the metro to the Motera Stadium – yes, that’s what they call it here, still – with dozens of police personnel. There is heavy deployment of security in and around the stadium, with those in uniform knowing that the sea of humanity that will descend upon the venue on match day could well be unlike anything seen in cricket.

In all, around 10,000 police and special forces will be on duty on Saturday. The city has been declared a ‘no drone’ zone. They can’t take any chances as sporadic threats have been made to disrupt the match.

Efforts have seemingly been made to ensure fans get to relax after they are inside the venue. Free water, clean surroundings, ample F & options are said to be on offer.

And once they are in their seats, spectators will be entertained with an elaborate ceremony before the start of the match, with some big names of Indian movie and music industry performing. Which begs the question – is this a World Cup or some tournament held around an India-Pakistan match.

Most know the answer to it. Everything is done to ensure an India-Pakistan match takes place early in any multi-team tournament. That is where the money is. And it is going to be as big and brash as it can possibly be.

It might not all be appetising, but there simply is no show like it.

Updated: October 13, 2023, 2:34 PM