Games don't come much bigger than an India v Pakistan World Cup semi-final, so it's no surprise Mohali, which will host the match on March 30, has become the most sought-after destination in India. The Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh will be there, and so will industry heavyweights, and IPL franchise owners, Mukesh Ambani and Vijay Mallya. Not only is there a mad scramble for tickets on the black market, but all the hotels are reportedly booked within a 25-kilometre radius and there is even a shortage of parking space at the airport for those with private planes.
The stakes for the game were raised (as if a place in the World Cup final was not enough) on Friday when Singh sent a note to Pakistan prime minister Yousuf Gilani, and president Asif Zardari, inviting them both to the contest, the first such gesture since the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
"I propose to be at Mohali to watch the World Cup semi-final match between India and Pakistan to be held on 30th March," the note said. "There is huge excitement over the match and we are all looking forward to a great game of cricket that will be a victory for sport. It gives me great pleasure to invite you to visit Mohali and join me and the millions of fans from our two countries to watch the match."
The Chandigarh police are taking no chances with such a high-profile match, and have completely cordoned off the Pakistan team hotel. They have also given the team a list of dos and don'ts during their stay in the city. "More than 1000 policemen have been pressed into service," HS Doon, senior superintendent of Chandigarh Police, told the Telegraph. "We are using jammers and the team has been told to co-operate with us. Any team member, who wishes to go out of the hotel, will have to inform us at least four hours in advance."
An ICC official told ESPNcricinfo that there is an additional buzz in addition to the excitement and passion in Mohali considering India are playing Pakistan. "It is a mother of all finals even if it is just the semis," the official said. It is also understood that the ICC is happy with the security arrangements at the venue. "The level of security that was expected is in place," the official said.
Hotels all over the city are packed and have been forced to turn away people. "We are full over the next five days," Saera Dir, the sales and marketing head for the Taj Hotel, told the Times of India. "For the last one week, we have been politely declining requests from at least 50 clients every day."
Of course the lack of space in Chandigarh is not something that will deter an intrepid fan. "We could not get any bookings in Chandigarh or Mohali," Gurgaon-based businessman, Rohan Gupta said. "The room we got was at a resort nearly 25km from the stadium. But we don't mind as long as we can enjoy the excitement of the match in the stadium."
Tickets have been sold out for days, but fans are still thronging to the PCA Stadium in the vain hope of finding them from somewhere. "I have been coming here since Monday, but have not been able to get any ticket," Vikas Sharma, a young executive with a private company, told the Economic Times.
The rush for tickets has naturally led to allegations of black-market profiteering, with tickets going for as much as 10 times their original value. "The tickets are available, but you pay Rs 3000 for a Rs 250 ticket and shell out Rs 10,000 for a Rs 1000 ticket," Ram Kumar, a bank officer in Chandigarh, told the same newspaper.
The Punjab police admitted this is a problem but said they will do what they can to stop the illegal sale of tickets. "It is a problem and many cricket lovers will suffer due to this," Mohali district police chief Gurpreet Singh Bhullar said. "We will try our level best to check black-marketing of tickets. Our officials will be deployed in plain clothes around the stadium and at various other locations to catch the black-marketeers."
"We will try our level best to check black marketing of tickets. Our officials will be deployed in plain clothes around the stadium and at various other locations to catch the black-marketeers." District police chief Gurpreet Singh Bhullar
While fans wanted to know how the local cricket association sold tickets in bulk to individual buyers, the association said it was powerless to stop the practice. "Our preparations are going on in full swing for this match," GS Walia, joint secretary of the Punjab Cricket Association, said. "We cannot do anything directly in case of black-marketing. People came, stood in queues and bought tickets. Now if they sell them to anybody else in black, how can we keep a track? It is not under our control. But there will be enough security checks to ensure the genuineness of tickets."
According to the Times of India, space at Chandigarh airport is limited so private jet owners have been asked to arrange for their planes to drop them off, then head off to places like Amritsar or Delhi to park for the day, before returning to pick them up after the match.
Those fans who have to fly commercial airlines should be prepared to pay a huge premium, reported Mint, a business paper. Business-class tickets are sold out, and an economy ticket for the 30-minute flight between Delhi and Chandigarh will cost between Rs 7407 and Rs 10,482 on March 29. A flight to Chandigarh from Delhi on any other day costs about Rs 3200.
"With business-class seats already sold out, and full-service fares reaching the maximum levels - Rs 9000 on Delhi-Chandigarh and Rs 22,000 on Mumbai-Chandigarh - the airlines will need to add some excess capacity to take advantage of the peaking demand for 29-31 March," Aloke Bajpai, the founder of travel portal iXiGO.com," told Mint. "Even tertiary sectors to Chandigarh, such as Jaipur-Chandigarh, are selling at Rs 8000."
Meanwhile the Times of India also reports that a special bus service is being set-up at Wagah, which is at the border between India and Pakistan, to make it easier for Pakistan fans to get to the stadium. About 6500 visas are expected to be issued for the game.
The overwhelming interest in the game has also proved to be a godsend for the broadcaster, ESPN Star Sports (ESS). Four years ago, ratings tumbled after India were knocked out in the group stages, making it much harder to sell advertising space. Things couldn't be more different this time around. "There are very few spots left," Sanjay Kailash, executive vice-president, ad sales and new media for ESS told the Times of India. "We are looking at substantially higher rates compared to what we were selling before the tournament started."