March 24, 2011. The world cup quarter-final between India and Australia. And I decided to watch my first ever ODI match live in a stadium.
The atmosphere was electrifying, and I was asking myself again and again, why did I wait for so many decades. When just before the match, they played the national anthem, 40,000 people sang along. It was an emotional moment, and I couldn't hold back my tears. Each time Australia lost a wicket, the cheers were loud enough that I am sure people in Ahmedabad city could tell without catching the game on TV. But yet, when Ponting completed his century there was a round of applause for him. When Sachin started moving to the pavilion after his dismissal, and the umpire asked him to stop till he had verified whether it was a no ball or not, there was a prayer on everyone's lips. Your personal religion did not matter. There was only one religion on display: Cricket. And there is only one God in this religion: Sachin.
At the end of 39th over, the required run rate had creeped up to over 6. For the first time in the match, people started losing hope. Some people started leaving. But those would regret their decision to leave because right after that in the 40th and 41st over, Yuvraj and Raina scored 27 runs, and brought the required run rate to below 5. Singh was King that night.
But while the game was exhilarating, everything else about the event was horrible. The ticket sales, to begin with. Why couldn't they have an online auction or an online lottery depending on whether you believe in capitalism or in socialism. It is ridiculous to make people stand in queue for hours together waiting for the counters to open, only to be told that the tickets are sold out.
The traffic management was so poor that we took about 1.5 hours in the car for the last 1.5 KM. The reason - people weren't informed that there was adequate parking available near the stadium. So people parked on the roadside, making less road space available for traffic. Then those brave souls who decided to go up to the stadium in their cars were pleasantly surprised to notice that there was parking space available, but security checking of cars was so slow that the the traffic backed up for more than 5 KM. Can't someone do some back-of-the-envelope calculation and plan. If there are going to be 40,000 people coming, and there is no public transportation available, then expect at least 4000 cars to show up, and will need to be parked in about an hour. So have enough security guards to check enough cars in parallel to achieve that capacity. There is no reason to have a long queue.
Then there was this sign pointing us to the direction of Gate number 12, but there was no gate number 12 in that direction. Different policemen would give us different directions, and finally we figured that there is no gate numbered 12. We had to enter from gate number 11. The signs could have been less frustrating.
Well, we finally entered the stadium. We were stripped off water bottles, and no food packets. Presumably the food may have some poison in it, and we may attempt feeding the players on the boundary line. We knew in advance that mobile phones and no other electronic gadgets will be allowed. But what we did not know was that even a plastic pen could be used as a weapon. Perhaps someone in the police hierarchy had read that the pen is mightier than the sword, and if swords are security risks, then of course, pens are security risks too. I wanted to ask the policeman on duty - what if I try to throw my shoes into the ground. But I desisted. They may actually start banning footwear into the stadium. Anything goes in the name of security, and no body bothers asking a question - is there an alternative. (If the main problem with water bottles was that there have been several incidents in the past of spectators throwing water bottles into the ground, then the solution is not to ban water bottles, but to increase the height of the wiremesh barrier between the seats and the playground from 8-10 feet to may be 20 feet. Also, they should ask the security guards to not congregate at one location and watch the match, but to be dispersed throughout the stands and watch the spectators.
One would imagine that the hosts, whether it was ICC, or BCCI, or Gujarat Cricket Association, would have made some arrangements for food and water. After all, people were going to be there for 10 hours, and not everyone was in the mood to keep a fast. There were kids and there were old people in the crowd too. To be truthful, there was a contractor who was supposed to sell these. Every once in a while, there was some noise indicating that the contractor has gotten another 100 bottles of water, and there would be a stampede. People would fight, people would argue, and the one man who was doing the selling would pour water from one bottle of 10 rupees into three glasses and sell each glass for 10 rupees. Never mind the cost. But how do I carry multiple glasses through this huge crowd. By the time I will reach my seat, I would have lost half the water. But wait till the next round of bottles arrive, and this was for a stand which perhaps had more than 3000 spectators.
Food was even rarer. So at the innings break, there was a massive argument between lots of hungry and thirsty souls and the handful of policemen at the gate, and they had no option but to allow people to go out of the stadium, and bring back bottles, food packets, and anything else they wanted. There was no way police was going to be able to check what all was being brought in. We thank our stars that terrorists did not think of this as an option to bring in whatever they wanted to bring in. (And yes, people did throw some of those bottles onto the ground proving the police viewpoint that these can be used to disrupt the match. But as I said earlier, there has to be an alternate way of ensuring that bottles don't reach the ground.)
I was really shocked, seeing the arrangements. You have thousands of captive customers, who have nowhere to go, and who mostly could afford any monopolistic price for food and water. (Most people in the stand were talking about how many thousands they had paid for the 800 rupees ticket.) And we were in Gujarat, the land of entrepreneurship. Didn't someone think that a lot of money could be made by providing a bit of service.
The toilets were filthy. (May be that is why they were not selling water. To ensure that you don't have to face the stench multiple times during the 10 hour period.)
The seats were narrow and very uncomfortable, and were designed to encourage everyone to stand up every time even mildly positive thing happened on the field. Standing was so much more comfortable than sitting on those chairs.
From our stand, we couldn't see the replay board conveniently. So at times we would miss the action and there would not be any action replay.
And I was doing some mental calculations. (Remember my pen was confiscated in the name of security.) If they had charged Rs. 801 for the ticket, instead of Rs. 800, they would have had enough money extra to clean the toilets continuously for 10 hours. I am sure there would be no spectator in that stand who would not have happily paid that one rupee extra for clean toilets. They could further raise the ticket price to Rs. 802, and hire a few cleaning staff who would take away the empty bottles, plastic glasses and all the other waste that was being littered everywhere.
Indeed, I am sure that no spectator in that stand would have minded paying a bit more extra for hiring a few LCD TVs and putting them on the roof, or on the pillars, etc. This would have made the match experience much better.
So on one hand I am kicking myself for not being part of such a fantastic experience earlier in my life, but on the other hand, I am not sure whether I want to go through the mismanagement of the type that I experienced at Motera that day. I know the biggest of the world cup games is on 30th at Mohali, but I am tempted to stay home and watch it on TV.