Walking towards the Nehru Stadium in Guwahati is like gradually entering a sea of khaki. You notice pockets of security officers patrolling street corners, large chunks manning the gates, and an entire ocean flooding the premises of the Assam Cricket Association.
More than 1500 security men - picked from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Para-military forces and State Battalions - swarmed the outer part of the ground, receiving instructions on their duties for the next two days. In April last year, Guwahati was witness to an ugly riot, when the India-England game was abandoned due to a wet outfield. The incident - when a section of the crowd broke down stands, burnt paper and pelted missiles - jeopardised Guwahati's standing as an international venue.
An India-Pakistan match is usually accompanied by heavy security but the local administration, with backing from both the central and state governments, is trying to cover all bases. "In view of past incidents, as well as the fact that this is an India-Pakistan match, we have taken additional steps," said GP Singh, deputy inspector general of the western range police.
"We have been informed that a number of Pakistan fans and media will be accompanying the team and we are ensuring appropriate security measures across the city." Around 250 fans and close to 50 mediapersons are expected to make the trip from Pakistan. "There is no separate enclosure for the Pakistan fans. They have been allotted tickets in various parts of the ground. We are keen to have an incident-free match."
Amid this throng of security men is a giant poster announcing the match, with Sunny Deol, the Bollywood star, welcoming both teams with folded arms. There are also big hoardings announcing the National sub-junior Kabaddi Championships in January 2008 and the upcoming Bordoloi Trophy football tournament (involving club teams from India and abroad).
The Nehru Stadium, a multi-sport arena, has staged 11 ODIs and the pitch has generally tended to favour bowlers who can move it around. Only twice have teams crossed 250 and locals mention a score of around 230 being a realistic target. Matches in Guwahati start earlier than other centres in India, what with the sun setting as early as 5 pm, and the initial dew is conducive for the faster bowlers upfront. However, Sunil Barua, the local curator, felt it was a "300 pitch", with the batsmen free to drive through the line. "There will be a lot of dew early but the pitch is a very good one."
Both teams are scheduled to arrive tomorrow afternoon and there will be no practice session, with the series trophy set to be unveiled.