All set for World Cup final

Fans all set for final (AP)
Fans all set for final (AP)

Mumbai - Frenzied fans, ticket touts and paramilitary police promised a heady mix of carnival and caution for the cricket World Cup final in Mumbai Saturday between hosts India and South Asian rivals Sri Lanka.

Roads were blocked around the Wankhede Stadium venue, with some 3 500 police personnel out in force to ensure the safety of the two teams and the 32 000 spectators, who include both countries' presidents.

The match is Mumbai's highest-profile sporting event since the 2008 attacks, which saw 10 Islamist militants kill 166 people in strikes against landmark targets, including the Taj Mahal Palace hotel where the teams were now staying.

Khaki-clad police equipped with bamboo sticks were joined by paramilitaries with full body armour and automatic weapons, as coastguard and navy patrols kept watch on the Arabian Sea and a no-fly zone was imposed over south Mumbai.

Officers will monitor security cameras at the ground, where fans face searches for an extensive list of banned items, including food, drinks and electronic equipment, before entering.

Despite the stringent security, ticket touts have been out in force around the stadium for days, seeking to cash in on the clamour for seats.

Television news channel NDTV said its reporter had been offered black market tickets for the sell-out game for up to $3 300 each.

The Mumbai Mirror tabloid said that customs officers at the city's airport offered to waive import duty on a replica of the World Cup trophy in return for seats at the final.

"We can say they asked for a substantial number of tickets," an unnamed official from the sport's governing body the International Cricket Council was quoted as saying. The actual trophy is already at the ground.

With favourites India looking to win the trophy for the first time since 1983, newspapers summed up the mood of expectation, with many focusing on whether local hero Sachin Tendulkar could secure a victory on his home ground.

"A Nation Holds Its Breath," The Times of India daily said on its front page.

The Hindustan Times quoted batsman Gautam Gambhir as saying that he would dedicate an India win to the victims of the Mumbai attacks.

Indians from cycle-rickshaw drivers to film stars to the prime minister have been swept up in the anticipation.

"Keep it up is all I would say. I hope India wins," said India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who watched the men in blue beat arch rivals Pakistan in Wednesday's semi-final.

Bollywood film stars, who are expected to be among the crowd, added their encouragement on Twitter, while Indian model Poonam Pandey sought to justify her pledge to strip naked for the team if they win.

"Any thing for my Country to get Home the World Cup So INDIA Cheer with me That we need 1983 BACK" she tweeted on Friday.

Many ordinary fans have already got into the party mood, with their faces and hair painted in the saffron, white and green of the Indian tricolor.

Cycle-rickshaw driver Sheru Khan, 35, showed his dedication by riding nearly 1 500 kilometres from his home in northern Uttar Pradesh state to Mumbai after being promised a free ticket by a local politician.

Across the financial hub, businesses were either not opening at all or closing early.

"Most offices in the area are shut, so I won't get any customers," said Om Gupta, a 51-year-old stall holder in south Mumbai. "It will hit my business but it's fine for half a day," he told AFP.

Ramesh Bhatt, who serves tea to office workers with three other "chaiwallahs", said the match would eat into their combined earnings of about 4 000 rupees (88 dollars) a day.

"The civic authorities have already told us that we can't make the chai on the road. We won't come to work but we don't have any option," said the 42-year-old.

Other businesses are expecting a windfall, with some bars charging up to $150 a head for an all-day match package.

Fans wanting the atmosphere of a large crowd can also see the match at multiplex cinemas but most will be watching with family and friends.

"I'm excited about it," said Vipin Vijayan, 40, who works for a shipping firm.

"What we saw against Pakistan was just a rehearsal. We know we can do it again."

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