“Bhaiyya, aap media se ho kya?” Vikas Kumar asks with an apologetic look on his face. As you nod in the affirmative, the 27-year-old goes on to narrate his sob story. Kumar says he has purchased a ticket worth Rs 1,500 for the upcoming T20 fixture between India and West Indies to be played at Lucknow’s newly constructed Ekana International Cricket Centre.
Having made the booking online, Kumar lands up at the premises with the print-out of his ticket on match-eve. But to his angst, stadium officials tell him that this print-out is not valid. “Get a proper ticket, only then will I let you in for tomorrow’s game,” he was warned. Kumar, a Lucknow native, looks around, desperate for help. He is not alone.
There are others like him facing a similar predicament. Before bookings for this match was officially opened last week, there were reports on how certain shady online portals were duping people by issuing fake tickets without proper barcodes. It’s possible that Kumar is a victim of this malicious fraud.
“These tickets don’t have proper barcodes. If I let him in tomorrow, I will lose my job,” the stadium official adds, pointing to Kumar. As Lucknow gears up to host its biggest cricketing extravaganza in more than 24 years, instances of such confusion over tickets sale reigned supreme.
Similarly, there was high drama last week, after Chetan Chauhan, Uttar Pradesh’s sports minister announced that around 1,000 seats in the stadium would be exclusively reserved for students at a subsidised rate of Rs 450. When hordes of students landed up in front of the stadium, they were duly turned away by officials. Pandemonium ensured, and cops had to be deployed to calm the situation. Following that incident, the state government decided to put those tickets on sale at select schools and colleges across the city. Barely 24 hours later, these tickets were sold out.
Despite the chaos, the reason for this frenzy over this match is understandable. That’s because the city of Nawabs and Tehzeeb has been starved of international cricket for some time now. The last time Lucknow hosted an international match was in January 1994, when India played a Test match against Sri Lanka at the KD Singh Babu Stadium. Since then, all action in the state, including the Indian Premier League, was shifted to Kanpur’s Green Park.
Now, this plush 50,000-seater vicinity, situated on Shaheed Path and overlooking the Gomti river has piqued Lucknowites curiosity levels. Not surprisingly, the impending festivities, and the absence of Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni, India’s two biggest cricketing superstars from India’s playing XI, has had little impact on ticket collections. Gaurav Singh, the media manager of Ekana Group, says despite all hiccups, he is expecting a sell-out crowd for the game. “All tickets have been sold out,” Sinha says, and adds that he along with some of the other stadium officials were skeptical before booking officially opened last week.
“See, the match is scheduled a day before Diwali. It’s an auspicious time for most, so we were apprehensive about the turnout. But the new stadium, and having an international match in 25 years has got the city excited.”
So, even the relatively higher ticket rates have not turned these fans away. The average ticket cost ranges anywhere from Rs 1,000 to Rs 4,000, which is nearly double the rate of any IPL match ticket at a top-tier centre. Even the cost of corporate boxes and the VIP and Platinum Lounges are in the range from Rs 10,000-Rs 25,000.
Top facilities, but at a cost
Back in 2015, the Lucknow Development Authority gave land to the Ekana Group to build a top-notch cricket stadium. This venue, built at Rs 470 crore, is equipped with two gigantic screens of 1,800 sq feet each, 40 VIP boxes, a media centre and a classy dressing room. The main draw, however, is the venue’s proximity to some of Lucknow’s plush 5-star hotels and the international airport.
On match-eve, Lucknow resembles any other chaotic venue that’s gearing up to host an international fixture. As you enter Shaheed Path, the imposing magnificence of the stadium, replete with those gigantic floodlights, hits you almost instantly. In front of the stadium gates are men selling India flags, caps and other counterfeit Team India merchandise.
One of these sellers is Jaikishan, the 52-year-old, who has travelled all the way from Thiruvananthapuram, which hosted the fifth and final One Day International between India and Windies. “I did good business there, and so I decided to travel to Kolkata for the first T20 game. But since I didn’t get any tickets, I booked a sleeper-class ticket to Jhansi, and from there I boarded a bus to Lucknow,” he says. The journey from Thiruvanthapuram to Lucknow, via Jhansi was close to 61 hours, but Jaikishan says it’s worth the effort.
“The kind of business I do in these two match days, is sufficient to last at least two weeks,” he adds. Incidentally, India lead 1-0 in this three-match T20 series, having won their first game at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. For the 50,000, who will gather at Lucknow’s plush cricketing centre on Monday, will be happy to see their team clinch the series. More than anything, they will just be relieved to see international cricket back on their home turf.