Dhoni fever as more than 100,000 fans expected at IPL final
A crowd of more than 100,000 was expected to fill the world's biggest cricket stadium on Sunday for the final of the Indian Premier League and the likely farewell of superstar M.S. Dhoni.
Dhoni's Chennai Super Kings will take on holders Gujarat Titans in Ahmedabad, aiming for a record-equalling fifth title in the culmination of the big-bucks T20 tournament.
But Gujarat, led by Hardik Pandya, will be no pushovers playing in their home stadium as they look to retain the title after a fairytale, debut-season victory a year ago.
Pandya lifted the trophy in front of a 101,566 fans at the 132,000-capacity stadium in 2022, a world record for a T20 cricket match. But organisers were confident that record would fall on Sunday evening.
A media official of the state association told AFP that "tickets are sold out for the grand finale and we are expecting a full house".
The authorities had expected a packed house for the final playoff as well, but only about 75,000 fans turned up for the Friday match when Gujarat hammered Mumbai Indians.
Scores of fans looked upbeat on Saturday as they queued to redeem their online tickets at a counter outside the stadium.
Suresh Babu, a software engineer, told AFP he had travelled from Chennai, at the other end of the country, "to see Dhoni lift the trophy one more time".
"I know it may be his last, but we pray that he comes back again next year," added the 43-year-old, who wore Dhoni's yellow Chennai jersey.
Gujarat have enjoyed huge home support in their second season in the competition, but loyalties will be divided due to Dhoni's presence.
The 41-year-old remains a huge draw in cricket-mad India and the finale is believed to be his last game as a player, despite the wicketkeeper-batsman saying he will make a call on his IPL future later this year.
The former India captain has filled venues all over the country during the current season, and the Narendra Modi Stadium will be no different in the tournament final.
Sharif, a T-shirt seller who goes by just one name, told AFP: "Last year it was just Pandya jerseys that were sold but this time Dhoni's Chennai number 7 T-shirt is equally in demand."
A young fan wearing a Pandya jersey said: "I want Hardik to win the IPL again but still want to see Dhoni hit the helicopter shot for a six."
That shot, a bottom-handed wristy flick, was Dhoni's trademark in his pomp.