Fans offer prayers for team India's victory at a temple in Amritsar on the eve of their 2023 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup final
Ahmedabad (India) (AFP) - Thousands of sleepless flag-waving fans sporting blue India jerseys clogged roads outside the world’s biggest cricket stadium early Sunday, too excited to sleep as excitement built ahead of the World Cup final.
Drivers honked at fans blocking roads, shouting slogans and bargaining with roadside hawkers hours before the Sunday afternoon finale between the cricket-crazy hosts and the game’s traditional powerhouse Australia.
The blockbuster conclusion of cricket’s showpiece tournament, with 48 matches over 46 days between 10 teams at 10 venues, wraps up Sunday at the grand 132,000-seat arena named after Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India’s western city of Ahmedabad.
With fans attending the game from distant parts of India and across the world, the city is packed, with some hotels charging 10 times regular rates.
- ‘Like a big Hindu festival’ -
A street vendor sells India's cricket team caps and jerseys outside the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad
Media reports said that many desperate fans had even approached some local religious institutions to stay overnight at their subsidised dormitories for devout pilgrims before the game.
Others lit candles, offering prayers for the success of their beloved team.
“This feels like a big Hindu festival… with families and friends out on the roads in a celebratory mood,” said Suresh Raval, 34, a local resident outside the stadium.
Confident that India, who are still unbeaten in the tournament, would trounce Australia, Raval said that he and his friend were “finding it hard to sleep” and felt “really lucky to get two tickets for the game”.
Performers take part in a rehearsal at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on November 18, 2023, on the eve of the 2023 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup final
While he refused to reveal what he’d paid for the two “priceless tickets”, many fans have reportedly paid 10 to 20 times the cheapest ticket’s listed price to attend the title clash.
“All these expenses – from flights to hotels to the stadium tickets – wouldn’t pinch a bit if India performs well and win the title,” said Vijay Kumar, a fan from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
Kumar said that “it felt so good” to see fans also wearing blue India jerseys crowding his flight to Ahmedabad on Saturday.
“But this atmosphere outside the stadium already feels so much better,” he added outside the stadium’s main entry gate.
“We are still many hours away from the start of the match but it feels so festive. Everyone here shares the same hope and nervous excitement.”
Modi will be joined at the game by Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles.
- ‘Song and dance’ -
A woman writes a message for team India on a fan wish wall in Ahmedabad airport
Fans at the packed stadium will also witness an air force flypast, a light and laser show, and hundreds of dancers performing Bollywood hit songs between the two innings.
“All the song and dance is good, but we are here for the game – and happy as long as India keeps winning,” said Sahil Khanna, 48, a fan from New Delhi.
He came to the stadium on Saturday night, saying he couldn’t sleep because of the excitement about the game.
“I am glad I am here. It is festival-like, there are thousands of fans here already,” he said, surrounded by hawkers selling snacks and India T-shirts and caps. “Everyone’s discussing the game.”
Security personnel gather outside the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on November 18
Despite the country’s cricket riches, India are without a major international title since the 2013 Champions Trophy, and national expectations have reached fever pitch.
Amidst the festive excitement in the decked-out Ahmedabad – with colourful lights and large cutouts of cricket stars at many intersections – tens of thousands of security forces were also deployed.
Police formed a multi-layered security ring around the stadium, readying for not only 130,000 fans at the venue, but also tens of thousands more packing the streets if – as the fans dream – India wins.