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In the middle of India's party

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Alison Mitchell | 17:02 UK time, Thursday, 31 March 2011

Driving back from the PCA Stadium to the players' hotel after India's thrilling semi-final win over Pakistan, our minibus came to a grinding halt.

Craning forward expecting to see another road block, we saw a small white car, which had braked and pulled up right in the middle of the crossroads where we wanted to turn right.

A teenage lad was riding on the roof of the vehicle holding aloft an Indian flag while a man in his twenties rode on the bonnet with a Punjabi dhol drum cradled in his lap whacking out a party beat.

Soon, out of every window of the car, came arms, followed by bodies, as the occupants waved and punched the air to the beat of the drum, whooping in delight at India's passage to the World Cup final.

Shortly, six more cars hit their brakes alongside it and joined in the crossroads party.

As our driver detoured around it, we left behind an impromptu road party, car horns blaring, flags fluttering, arms waving, as that part of Chandigarh came to a standstill.


Indian fans celebrate victory against Pakistan. Photo: Getty

Scenes like that must have been replicated all over India, with jubilation tempered only by the odd story of tragedy, such as the fan who was reported to have fallen out of a car window celebrating in such a manner and later dying of his injuries in hospital.

The India team managed to speed back to the hotel in their convoy of coaches and police vans, arriving just seconds ahead of us.

There was a line of fans waiting to greet them, but they were some distance away, held behind a roadblock, so there weren't the wildly chaotic scenes we saw outside the team hotel the night Bangladesh beat England in Chittagong for example.

However, inside the hotel gates, staff and armed guards lined the driveway and the lobby, along with any number of hotel guests and VIPs, who were craning to get a view of the players over the top of a gaggle of photographers.

A small squad of dhol drummers cranked up the volume as the players climbed down from the bus and squeezed into the hotel amongst a carnival atmosphere, although it soon died down as the players headed for the lifts and the quiet of their rooms.

I wonder what captain MS Dhoni made of the clamour?

He gave an unexpected answer when I asked him post-match whether there was any relief that the India-Pakistan game was over, bearing in mind the extra attention that had been paid to it.

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He cut the figure of a man who had had enough of the hype, complaining about the effect of "too many" VIPs and dignitaries coming to the game and staying at their hotel.
"I usually get up late, so at 11 o'clock I got up and said 'can I have breakfast' and I was told, 'Sir, for the next hour we cannot serve anything.'

"So then you come to the stadium looking for food, and all of a sudden you hear there is no food because the car or truck [with supplies] is stuck somewhere [at a road block].

"So the first meal I had was at a quarter to two, just before the toss. Hopefully the next game will be quite different."

Whilst having sympathy for Dhoni and fully appreciating the need for food (this author gets quite ratty if she has to miss breakfast) I find myself feeling a tiny bit of schadenfreude in learning that all the attention, high levels of security and road blocks result in a little inconvenience for the players too from time to time.

It's easy to presume that the players, stars as they are in India, have it plain sailing 24-7, while we mere mortals suffer our frustrations with queues at grounds, traffic jams and road blocks over a six week period.

These are, of course, complete trivialities, but it's nice to know the players have to have some patience too.

As for Dhoni's wish that the final be different - has he heard the rumour that Rihanna and Eminem might be in town to perform prior to the match? Bet your bottom dollar they'll be staying at the team hotel...

And so the teams left Chandigarh at lunchtime on Thursday and calmness descended on the Taj Hotel - no more soldiers stationed behind sandbags and no more policemen patrolling the corridors.

Pakistan will head home, but can do so with their reputation enhanced, for they have performed well in this tournament under the admirable leadership of Shahid Afridi.

However, paceman Shoaib Akhtar didn't get the fanfare exit he'd hoped for from international cricket.

In an in-depth interview we did ahead of the semi-final he had told me with real passion that the highlight of his career would have been to play in the last two matches of the World Cup and help win it for Pakistan.

India-Sri Lanka is a fitting finale, with two of the host nation teams having displayed quality throughout the tournament.

Sri Lanka have fitness concerns over both Angelo Mathews and Muttiah Muralitharan, but Murali, in his last game of international cricket, will bowl off one leg if he has to, despite missing training on Thursday.

Murali and Lasith Malinga may well hold the key for Sri Lanka against India's stronger batting line-up.
But of course there is Sachin Tendulkar, sitting on 99 international hundreds, and about to play on his home patch.

I interviewed him after the semi-final and he stated, in typical fashion, that it didn't matter whether he reached the landmark of a hundred 100s or not.

The only thing that matters to him is that India win. In doing so, they'd become the first nation to win the World Cup on home soil. I can't wait to see how it unfolds.


  • Comment number 1.

    I agree that Murali and Malinga hold the key for Sri Lanka in terms of mitigating India's superior batting line-up. I also think whoever wins the toss could dictate the winner. However if Sri Lanka's openers fire like they did against England then it really is anyone's game.

    On a random note - Dhoni gets up at 11 o'clock on a morning?!?! Most people who would get up at that hour would miss breakfast at a hotel. I think it's hillarious that the captain of the most famous cricket team in the world is in bed till 11 - if the others follow suit I think we may have solved the puzzle of why the Indian team tend to be a bit slow in the field, and aren't quite the fittest guys in the tournament!

  • Comment number 2.

    Since the league section the tournament has improved, if England hadn't been there it might've been the worst cricketing month ever!

    As a neutral I wish for a classic final with Tendulkar (100) & Murali (5fer) getting the send-off they deserve.

    BUT the scheduling of the final sounds like the toss may decide the winner.

    Let cricket be the winner...

  • Comment number 3.

    This is a very difficult final to call. Elsewhere, concerns have been expressed over SL to play away from home...but they have played in Mumbai already (onesided affair against NZ).

    SL don't have the best batting unit or the best bowling in the tournment but are very good at both...their middle order is a concern though. India have a fabulous batting line-up. Pure box office. Their bowling is a bit blah though and they have had to work very hard at it.

    As for the toss, when Dhoni won the toss against Pakistan my heart sank...India batting first have had catastrophic batting collapses in this tournament but have been brilliant chasing. Raina has improved them no end, so not sure the toss matters as much as others seem to think.

    The pressure on India is immense...,it not just the 1.2 billion people in India who want them to win. There are a lot of ex-pat or 2nd, 3rd, 4th generation Indians wanting them to win. (Me being one of them).

    I can't wait. These were my picks for the final before the tournament began, and after India-England was the final I wanted. Hopefully it will be a brilliant match, played in good spirit (like India-Pakistan) and a great advert for 50 over cricket.

  • Comment number 4.

    Mathews is out, so Sri Lanka have some thinking to do. Suraj Randiv is probably the second best off-spinner in Sri Lanka, hes been picked to replace Mathews in the squad. i have a feeling Sri Lanka will play him instead of mathews and drop either mendis or herath. Mendis has been blown away by India in the recent past and Herath is the kind of orthodox left armer that Indian batsman have for breakfast, even at 11 am... They'll have to bring Thisara Perera to bowl seam instead of mathews, it provides some hitting power at the end of the innings too. India have to make a decision on Ashwin, whether to play him instead of Raina? and hope their top order will be enough, it should be. Fielding will be key, Sri Lanka have been better, but the catching has to improve, if India do not perform in the field they will be in trouble. Alot depends on Yuvraj, batting and bowling, if he makes an impression with the bat in the death overs, that will be enough for India to get/set a big total. And Sri Lanka will have to go after his bowling, which may be dangerous, but its a gamble that SL will need to take.

    Its gonna be a great game of Cricket.

  • Comment number 5.

    Yes they both good bowlers and done well for SL, Murali is not the same bowler he used to be...however India always played him well and he's not a threat to Indian batters.Malinga on the other hand in this CWC got 11 wickets till now and i reckon 8 of them from associate nations.If Indian batters see him thru his 10 overs giving away 1 wicket well India can score heavily.Best of luck both teams

  • Comment number 6.

    "As for Dhoni's wish that the final be different - has he heard the rumour that Rihanna and Eminem might be in town to perform prior to the match? Bet your bottom dollar they'll be staying at the team hotel.."

    That's why its good to read the entire piece of news, the end of this news item goes like this...

    "Ya! Fooled You, Huh?
    It's April 1, dear readers... and we thought we'd kickstart April Fools' Day for you with this whopper of a story seeing as how the mood this weekend is only cricket!"

  • Comment number 7.

    Re #4

    India won't play Ashwin for Raina. Raina has been brilliant last two matches and is a batsman (who can bowl spin).

    Nehra has a fractured finger so the question is whether Ashwin replaces him...or they go for another seamer - Sreesanth maybe. I doubt they will go for Chowla as he has been very expensive.

  • Comment number 8.

    This world cup tournament has been excellent and and an excellent final tomorrow will be the perfect way to end this successful world cup. I hope Sachin Tendulkar gets his 100th ton and Murali gets 5 wickets.
    India slight favourites for this match but Sri Lanka got very good chance to win as well.

  • Comment number 9.

    Well, I never thougt in a thousand years I would be able to see cricket on national television in NORWAY.yes NORWAY! I have lived here for 34 years,trying on occasion to explain the game to my now fellow countrymen ,with appauling results, so now its with tremendous pleasure I can let the TV do the explaining for me, But rest assured I shall never stop listenind to all on TMS, my only contact left from these shores.

  • Comment number 10.

    The current Team India is special. It keeps on improving. Chasing targets is becoming the team's special trade mark. A successful captain, extraordinary coach and a talented set of left handers and right handers have made this team unbeatable. They have well and truly lifted the cup of joy.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 11.

    Alison, thanks for the different perspective of the World Cup from a visitor's point of view. Even though I'm not from India originally, I forget how peculiar things must seem - particular surrounding any India vs Pakistan cricket match! For Indians and Pakistanis that match is like a world cup final in itself!

    If you're still in India, I can only imagine that the party vibe you're experiencing right now surpasses even the Indian victory over Pakistan. Everyone - from the masses in the streets to Bollywood celebs seem to be in a visibly different mood. Even the likes of megastar Amitabh Bachchan have been blogging and tweeting about India's victory. This is probably going to be the most unproductive week workwise that India has experienced in a long time!



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