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Anything's possible in Delhi

Musharraf's handshake

Musharraf, bhai-bhai and corny graphics of superimposed flags have been all over the telly. We hear that Musharraf will watch the game for little more than an hour before talking shop with Manmohan Singh. Then someone says no, it's two hours. Another says it's 45 minutes. We give up guessing.

Finally the day arrives. There are men with machine guns everywhere. They are just outside the boundary, watching the game with a passing interest in security. A man from the prime minister's security office turns up to film the press box. Then, at ten to nine, the teams line up before the pavilion in one-day garb. The two heads of state emerge, hustled by bodyguards in dark suits. Both leaders give us their best smile and wave at us before meeting the teams. Manmohan greets the Pakistan team before Musharraf, who touches every Pakistan player at the back of the head and the shoulder. Then Musharraf says hello to the Indians and while shaking hands he holds their elbow. We think Bill Clinton mentioned he did that to express personal warmth to unfamiliar people.

Then they turn to the crowds and wave happily. Such happy waves! Such dazzling smiles! They all but somersault and do a lap of honour.

Like any other ground

One enters the Ferozshah Kotla imagining skeletal stands and workmen applying one last dab of paint before the spectators pour in. Gruesome images and news anchors on 24-hour news channels in the weeks preceding the game had sadistically emphasised that the stadium would be far from complete on April 17. Upon entering it we realise they were partially correct. Yes, the ground was not ready, but no, it did not appear as if the game would be affected in any way by it.

What does the stadium look like? Well, the dirt has been swept under a rug. Blue cloth and advertisements hide the construction work. There are incomplete pillars wrapped by the cloth, but if you didn't know any better, you'd have thought it was installation art: bamboo poles poke out from beneath the cloth. Three floors above the dressing-room is a packed enclosure missing a wall.

Heat stroke, danger to life and advertising everywhere. This is like any other ground in India.

The heavy burden of protection

With the visit and the threats by the Shiv Sena the security turn out is immense. There is the rapid-action force that mans the gates, the ordinary cops with batons that, thankfully, they aren't using, as well as other stern-looking men armed with an assortment of weapons. They are everywhere, especially up your nose.

"Pass by this bar," shouts one cop to a crushing wave of fans attempting to enter the ground. The bar is held horizontally at a height, no, depth of about three-and-a half feet. So you have the sight of face-painted limbo dancers. Once you are past, hands of security men reach out to grab your press pass, checking its authenticity. Then come the gates, swarming with security and framed by metal detectors. A beep sounds as you walk through it. A lengthy check entails, an embarrassing pat-down follows.

"Frisk everybody thoroughly, all up and down," says a senior policeman to no one in particular. This means heavier pats from heavy-handed friskers.

In view of such security, what chance does any one with evil intent have of entering the ground with, say, a banned device? "I could have brought anything in here, man," a cheery television news reporter professes in the press box. "Those metal detectors? I just walked around them. Here, you can do anything."

A while later, after failed attempts to bring water bottles into the press box - "Sorry, water bottles are not allowed" - the cheery TV reporter returns with bottles of much needed liquid. "See? I just walked in through an entrance with no security. Boss, anything's possible in Delhi."

American intervention

Interesting. There are Indian flags of all lengths and sizes, and there is a flutter of Pakistan green when a boundary is hit. And then there is a solitary American flag, waved wildly during a drinks break.

Rahul Bhatia is on the staff of Cricinfo.