The southern tip of Mumbai became a zero-activity zone on Saturday as the final match of the ICC cricket World Cup was being played at the Wankhede stadium amid tight security. Shops and showrooms near the stadium downed shutters and heavy barricading in adjoining lanes and main streets restricted the already minimal vehicular movement on the road.
The scenic stretch of Marine Drive, along which the stadium is located, was abuzz with patrolling police vehicles, vans and cargos of food and water.
All the entry points to the stadium were heavily guarded by squads of the police and the armed Rapid Action Force (RAF). Marksman – the specialised armoured vehicle of the Maharashtra police was stationed at all the entrances. Pavements were lined with rows of vans and patrol vehicles.
The leafy by-lanes around the stadium were cleared of vehicles and sealed for movement. Fresh no-parking signs were posted at several places. Entrances of residential buildings along the Marine Drive were also manned by police teams. So were the railway foot over bridges leading to Churchgate and Marine Lines railway stations.
The busy commercial areas in town wore a deserted look thanks to the local holiday declared by the State government. In deserted pockets, cricket lovers used the opportunity to play their own private matches.
A general outpouring of excitement was seen everywhere. The colours of the Indian flag adorned many a cheek. Youths with painted faces romped on motorcycles, flying the Indian tricolour to cries of “India, India.” The atmosphere itself was charged with thunderous shouts coming from the stadium.
Among the cheering multitude were high-profile guests, which included President Pratibha Patil and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Mr. Rajapaksa arrived in the city at 11.30 a.m.
The swish list comprised Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani and wife Nita Ambani and actors Preity Zinta, Amir Khan and wife Kiran Rao. Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, Union Minister Farooq Abdullah, Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani were also present.
Some among the political class of Maharashtra were lucky enough to get passes after having clamoured for them in the State Legislature. Special trains and buses were provided for cricket fans.
One ticket less
Shaheen Ul Alam came all the way from Dhaka, Bangladesh, with his sons and friends to cheer for India. But when they arrived in Mumbai, there was one ticket less.
Wankhede roared with excitement, but all that Mr. Alam, a businessman by profession, could do was stand around under a nearby tree wishing he could be inside.
“We were 12 in all. I got two tickets through the online lottery and the friends of my friend arranged for 10 more. But when we came here we were told only 11 tickets were available. I wish I had known before coming. They said one ticket could not be arranged as some ministers and powerful people wanted it,” Mr. Alam told The Hindu.
However, he was satisfied that his sons, who are Sachin's fans could watch the final. “It's my sons' first trip to Mumbai. I am happy that at least they managed to get in. We are all cheering for Tendulkar, ” he said.
Meanwhile, a young man and woman from Amsterdam, who did not wish to be named, were caught in the thick of high drama. However, to their chagrin, when they arrived at the venue, they found their pocket had been picked and one priceless World Cup ticket stolen. As luck would have it, the other ticket could not be accessed through the machine, fuelling speculation that it was a fake.
As evidence of the heavy police bandobast, the pickpocket was promptly nabbed and detained at the entrance itself. The twist, however, was that he had already sold the ticket he had stolen from the couple.
Frustrated and at their wit's end, but not to be deterred by the setback, the couple vanished into the streets in search of “the man.” Within minutes, they were back at the gate with proper tickets.