Page last updated at 13:31 GMT, Thursday, 18 March 2010

India cricket mania soars despite tight security

IPL match in Delhi
Security was tight but did not spoil the fun (Photos: Shailendra Pandey/Tehelka)

Security is tight for the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament amid fears of attacks by militants. The BBC's Soutik Biswas attends a match in Delhi to take a look.

What do you need to do to watch the world's greatest cricketer (Sachin Tendulkar) pitted in rare battle against one of its most destructive batsmen (Virender Sehwag)?

Well - if you are in the Indian capital, Delhi, at least - you may like to follow the police advisory and arrive at least four hours before the game armed with your ticket.

Once you're at an untidy park-and-ride to the ground, make sure you are not carrying any of the "33 items" prohibited by the city police.

The intriguing list includes:

  • chairs and stools (why should anybody be carrying them to a modern stadium?)
  • skateboards (where can you skate in the stands?)
  • animals (I have never seen a spectator with a pet at any cricket match)
  • distress signals (intriguing)
  • "loud hailer/whistle/horn", balloons, bottles and cameras.

All this is in aid of securing the spectators, of course.

The authorities are keen to allay concerns, particularly ahead of the Commonwealth Games later this year.

Stamina and patience

Police in Delhi appear to be leaving nothing to chance when it comes to protecting the packed-to-the brim IPL matches, considering the tense security environment in the country.

But it's not easy to attend a game - you need lots of stamina and patience.

It's better to be safe than sorry and go through these checks
Cricket fan Ravi Bhatia

I went through half a dozen security checks en route to Wednesday night's game between the Delhi Daredevils and the Mumbai Indians - two rounds of frisking, and a jangling journey through a noisy metal detector.

Every "checkpoint" at the Feroz Shah Kotla ground was littered with "prohibited" detritus confiscated from hapless fans - a pile of cigarette packets, enough pens to set up a stationary shop, a mountain of cigarette lighters.

I had to part with my chewing gum - when I asked why, an officer said that my gum box was a potential "projectile". Some reporters have described such tight security as an example of "police high-handedness".

But most spectators I chatted with appeared to have happily accepted it.

Police at IPL match in Delhi
Security inside the ground

"We keep reading in the papers that Delhi is a prime target for terrorists. It's better to be safe than sorry and go through these checks," says a young fan, Ravi Bhatia.

Inside the ground, security was firm but fairly unobtrusive, allowing fans to breathe and enjoy the game.

Delhi police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat told me that there were layers of security inside the ground - policemen, armed and otherwise, along with private security guards keep an eye on the stands and around the periphery of the ground.

It is not in your face, and it looks pretty well managed.

Party mood

So nothing really came in the way of enjoying a good evening out at an IPL game.

Crowds bopped to Bollywood remixes, went delirious as the cameras swooped down to capture the party mood, clicked pictures of shimmying cheerleaders on their mobile phones and helped themselves to sandwiches, cookies and cola.

Delhi vs Mumbai IPL match in Delhi
Delhi lost for the first time in the tournament

Sachin Tendulkar made a quicksilver 32-ball 63 - in his 21st year in international cricket, the master is in sublime form - to set up an imposing 218 runs for Mumbai, the highest in the tournament so far.

The pressure proved to be too much for the Delhi team and even Virender Sehwag succumbed after a too brief demolition job, scoring 26 runs in 16 balls.

Delhi, favourites to win the tournament, suffered a heavy near-100 run defeat.

When the match ended close to midnight and the disappointed Delhi fans trooped out, one finally got an inkling of the scale of security - riot police vans were lined up and hundreds of heavily armed police were milling around.

But nobody was really complaining - security has not killed the spirit and fun of the IPL. Yet.

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