With an estimated 2.7 million Indian and 1.2 million Pakistani expatriates forming the bulk of United Arab Emirates’ population of 9.5 million, there was never any doubt that a match between the two cricket-crazy countries would make for one of the hottest tickets in the history of sports.
Even though Wednesday is a working day, ‘packed to the rafters’ is expected to get a new meaning when the Rohit Sharma-led defending champions India take on arch-rivals Pakistan, captained by Sarfraz Ahmed, at the 25,000 capacity Dubai International Stadium at 3.30 pm local time (5.00 pm IST).
India-Pakistan matches used to be a staple diet for cricket fans in the UAE during the heyday of Sharjah. But ever since India stopped playing matches here, they have only played each other for a two-match ODI series in Abu Dhabi more than 12 years ago. With the UAE being Pakistan’s ‘home’ venue ever since the 2009 Lahore bus attack on the Sri Lankan team, there have been several talks of a bilateral series between the two countries, but it never fructified.
Match tickets seem to be more valuable than water in the desert. As of Wednesday afternoon, just a handful of VIP Lounge tickets remained, selling for Dirham 6,000 (approximately Rs 1,18,000). Everything else was gone, apparently within a couple of hours of the ticket sales opening.
This, despite the fact that the pricing for the group match was at par with that of the final (also sold out), which will be played on Friday, 28 September.
Stadium tickets for other group matches started at Dh 45 (Rs 890 for general admission), going up to Dh 275 (Rs 5,450) for platinum seats. For the India-Pakistan match, it started at Dh 150 (Rs 2,975) and went up to Dh 750 (Rs 14,870).
Local media has reported that scalpers were selling the Dh 150 general admission tickets for nearly four times the price.
One fan who managed to get a ticket was Sandeep Kapur, hailing from Ludhiana.
“I am definitely among the lucky few. India-Pakistan matches go just beyond competition between two teams. It is one of the greatest rivalries in any sport. I am looking forward to a great contest,” said Kapur, who also bought tickets for India’s match against Hong Kong on Tuesday, but was unable to get one for the final.
“Forget the tickets, they are even selling the flags at a premium. I went to Bur Dubai to buy an Indian flag. I got them for Dh 20 when the Indian Premier League (IPL) matches were played here (in 2014). They charged me Dh 100 (Rs 1,980) this time and it was smaller in size!”
Praveer Singh, from Indore, and Zeeshan Kalim, from Islamabad, are next-door neighbours at the upmarket Jumeirah Park. Both will have to resort to watching it on a giant screen at home after failing to secure their entry.
“This was the one match I have been waiting for ever since we moved to Dubai almost 10 years ago,” said Singh.
“I am very disappointed that there wasn’t any proper intimation or advertisement for the fans when the tickets first went on sale. I tried on the first day itself, but no luck.
“We will now try and create an atmosphere at home. There are a few neighbours from India and Pakistan and we go to each other’s houses on all auspicious occasions like Diwali and Eid. For us cricket fans, an India-Pakistan match is almost as big as our festivals. We will make sure we have a similar celebration with lots of biryanis and kebabs. One thing is for sure, we will all enjoy the match together,” he added.
Khaleej Times, the official newspaper of the tournament, ran an online contest for their readers, giving away 10 tickets for each match.
“We are not allowed to give the exact numbers, but the responses received for the tickets of the India-Pakistan match was one of the highest for any competition that we have run so far,” said a Khaleej Times official.
Mohammed Khan, a taxi driver here from a small village near Peshawar, was another of the many disappointed fans. The Dh 150 ticket would have been more than his take-home salary for the day, but he and his many friends tried hard before giving up.
“I am very sad for myself, but very happy for all those who got tickets. I am doing a morning shift tomorrow, so I will get to watch the match on television. But if the (corporate) boxes are empty tomorrow, I’ll be very angry and upset,” said Khan, who secured tickets for Pakistan’s match against Afghanistan in the Super Four stage instead.
After a drought of more than 12 years, it’s been a windfall for the fans, though. Both teams have won their opening group match against Hong Kong and have qualified for the Super Four stage, which is a round-robin format. The two teams will meet again in Dubai International Stadium on 23 September, and are expected to reach the final, which is scheduled for Friday, 28 September.