It’s 7 in the morning and Kumood Sharma heads nervously towards Punjab Cricket Association I S Bindra Stadium in Mohali. There is tight security due to the ongoing World T20 Championship and the 34-year-old has to walk more than 500 metres from the parking where he leaves his bike to the ticket counters.
Seeing the long line of fans already headed there, three hours before the counters will open, Sharma’s heart sinks. Estimating there could be 200-plus people ahead of him, he mumbles, “I got late due to the evening shift at work.”
He is here for tickets for the India-Australia match on March 27. Taking his spot in the queue before counter no. 4, the software engineer makes a call to his wife Rohini, who is on her way home with their daughter from her parents’ home in Gurdaspur. Taking money out of his wallet to count, he says Rohini stands a better chance at getting the tickets as the women’s queue is shorter.
A bunch of youngsters have joined him in the queue by now, their faces painted in India colours. They got late coming because they were working on their faces, they smile.
Sharma buys the day’s newspaper from a passing hawker, who is hanging around drawn by the crowd, and turns around to warn his fellow fans, “The lowest ‘combo ticket’ is Rs 200 for students and Rs 700 for the general block.”
The only tickets being offered by the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) are a joint deal, for the Pakistan-Australia match on March 25 and the March 27 game. Sighs one of the youths, “Ek weekend ka pizza gaya ticket ke chakkar mein (There goes a weekend’s pizza budget).”
By 8 am, Rohini and Prisha, 5, have arrived, and Sharma directs them towards the women’s side at counter no. 4, which has only around 75 in queue. Realising they will be here a while, Rohini opens the lunch box she had packed for Prisha to take to school and feeds her. “It was a six-hour-long bus journey from Gurdaspur and I was planning to send her to school when he (Sharma) called us to the stadium. He is crazy about cricket and we want to see the match too. What else can we do?”
Prisha, who hasn’t taken her eyes off the queues, turns to her mother and says, “We are at the 74th spot in the line, and I counted till 150 but Papa’s number is even beyond that.”
Around 9.45 am, a Punjab Police team of more than 10 officers and constables arrives, in anticipation of the chaos once the counters open. As they nudge back the odd person straying out of the queues, Sharma joins others in chanting “Bharat Mata ki Jai, Punjab Police zindabad”.
The window opens, and the first fan soon emerges holding his ticket aloft. Sharma, who says he stood for four hours during the 2011 World Cup for an India-Pakistan semi-final ticket, can feel his pulse racing. “That time there were police horses during the ticket sales and some fans had also got injured. I had lost my phone in the rush.”
He tried to buy the tickets online this time, Sharma adds. “I applied from 10 different phone numbers. But did not get any.”
It’s 11.30 am and the men’s line is moving at a snail’s pace. At Rohini’s queue, there is a commotion. Twenty-five attendants of a local school, who have come with a teacher to get tickets, have broken the queue. Rohini draws the attention of women constables nearby to what’s happening, and they disperse the attendants.
Sharma decides to check out the counter at the opposite end of the stadium, at Gate No. 14, and asks a 55-year-old man in the queue to keep his spot for him. However, there is ruckus at that counter, even forcing women ticket-seekers to move away. Sharma decides to drop the idea, and on the way back, checks on his wife and daughter.
With more than 4,000 fans at the counters and outside the stadium by now, a slight rain begins to fall.
Around 12.30 pm, Rohini finally makes it to the window, and manages to procure one combo ticket. As she shows it to Sharma, he exclaims, “Only one ticket! They said there will be two tickets per person. How will we see the match together?” Someone in the crowd says their daughter could get a ticket too with an I-card.
However, the I-card is at home. In the rush in the morning, Rohini had forgotten to carry it with them. There is feverish consultation between the husband and wife. Going by bike is ruled out as the vehicle is stuck in the parking crush. Rohini takes a taxi and rushes home, returning by 1 pm in another cab. The mother and daughter head again to their queue, now with nearly a hundred fans.
It’s 2 pm, and Sharma, who is still in line, has not eaten anything since early morning. All he had was some biscuits before leaving home. Some people offer him money to buy their tickets too while in the queue — Sharma is at about spot 75 now — but he politely refuses.
A man offers two tickets costing Rs 2,750 each. He bought it at the bank counters set up by the PCA. “I got these after three hours and there were no general block tickets,” he says. Sharma shakes his head. “These are out of my budget. Rs 10,000 main naya phone aa jayega (I can get a new phone for Rs 10,000), or pay my daughter’s three-month school fees.”
Realising he will be here a while, Sharma calls up his boss to convert his half-day leave to full day. Sharma works at a firm in IT Park, Chandigarh.
News travels down the queue that the ticket-printing machine has developed a snag. With a 10-minute break called, fans plonk themselves on the road. One of them takes out a pack of cards. Watching them keenly, Sharma comments on how fortunes can change overnight in cricket too. “It is also like a game of cards.”
A man from Shahbad, Haryana, who has been waiting for tickets at Gate No. 14, approaches them looking worried. “Do you have some cotton and water?” he asks Sharma. “My two kids fell off a counter and have hurt their knees. There are no medical facilities here,” he says. Sharma accompanies the man to his motorcycle, where he has a medical kit.
At 3 pm, Rohini’s daughter Prisha too manages to procure a ticket. Sharma tells his wife and daughter to go home for lunch. He is still awaiting his turn, with 50-odd fans now ahead of him at his counter.
It’s another hour before Sharma finally makes it to the 3 ft-by-3 ft window. There are three harried men sitting in the room, which is kept locked from outside, on the other side of the window.
His ticket in hand, a triumphant Sharma says, “A few elderly uncles who came from Amritsar quit the queue towards the end. But I wanted a ticket. I had to take leave from office, and it was worth it.”
Patting down his jacket, he heads towards his bike. However, Sharma’s ordeal is not over. His bike is again stuck between more than 25 bikes and cars. He waits for half-an-hour for others to remove their bikes.
“It has been a long day. But it has been worth it,” he repeats, heading home.