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India goes on holiday for final contest

cricket Updated: Apr 02, 2011 12:36 IST

Agencies
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India ground to a halt on Saturday as the country prepared for one of its biggest days, with cricket fans willing the team to overcome Sri Lanka and lift the World Cup trophy in Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium.

In a city struck by terrorism in 2008, security was tight, especially around the stadium where 32,000 fans were due to watch the game.

More than 3,000 police officers and paramilitaries were on duty to prevent a repeat of the November 2008 attack by Islamist militants on several targets in Mumbai, which killed 166 people.

Both teams were staying in the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, rebuilt after it was partially destroyed in gun fights involving the attackers in 2008.

Even the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who left for Mumbai to watch the World Cup final, but not before praying at Tirumala temple here for his team's success in the match against India.

Accompanied by his wife, the visiting dignitary, who had a 'darshan' of Lord Venkateswara and offered special puja on Friday evening, participated in the special rituals on Saturday morning.

The match will be attended by a host of celebrities and VVIPs, including Indian President Pratibha Patil.

Some of the lucky 33,000 spectators who possess a ticket for the all-Asian final between India and co-hosts Sri Lanka headed straight to the Wankhede Stadium seven hours before the first ball is bowled to ensure they do not miss out on even one second of the day's drama -- which could include Sachin Tendulkar scoring his 100th international century.

Those who could not beg, borrow or steal a ticket to the ground, changed the batteries in their TV remote and set the day's agenda around the contest.

Even major hospitals in Mumbai installed large screens so that staff who want to follow the action do not call in sick.

Mumbai has been transformed into a fortress with anti-aircraft guns placed at strategic locations, navy boats patrolling the coastline and elite security agencies completing the dragnet in the city which was targeted by militants in 2008.

The air-space above the stadium has been declared a no-fly zone and International Cricket Council President Sharad Pawar advised spectators to enter the stadium before the VIPs -- including presidents of both the nations -- start arriving.

Fans were having to pass through multiple security posts and were allowed to take in their mobile phones, flags and banners.

However, those carrying cameras, binoculars, radios and even bottles of water on a baking day in Mumbai were soon left frustrated as the items were confiscated due to safety measures.

Similarly smokers trying to sneak in cigarette packets failed to hoodwink the security personnel and could only watch on in disappointment as their loot was tossed into the bin.

Since only a fraction of India's billion strong population could get entry into the Wankhede, pubs and bars around the city were trying to attract the masses by installing giant screens and promoting day-long 'happy hours'.

"We have received heavy booking and in fact can't accommodate a single request anymore," Dinesh Naik, manager at a sports bar, told Reuters.