Wankhede becomes no-go area after failing safety checks

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Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium went into complete lockdown on Saturday just 24 hours after it was criticised by the city's top fire chief for not meeting safety standards.

All unauthorised personnel were being shooed away by harassed security guards, who were under orders not to allow any media to come within 75 metres of the stadium, which will host the World Cup final on April 2.

"We are under so much tension. Every day something or the other is happening. Please go away. Our jobs are on the line. If any officer sees you, we will be in trouble," a uniformed guard told Reuters as he escorted journalists out of the stadium complex.

A large digital clock in front of the Indian cricket board (BCCI) headquarters, which is housed in the same compound as the Wankhede, was counting down the minutes to India's opening World Cup match against Bangladesh in Dhaka later on Saturday.

There was no disguising the fact that time was fast running short too for Mumbai's cricket authorities to get their problems sorted before the venue hosts the first of its three World Cup matches on March 13.

Safety inspectors were unhappy that mandatory fire equipment, including water hydrants, no-smoking indicators, fire alarms and extinguishers were still not in place.

"They should have sorted this beforehand as you never want to leave these things so late," a Mumbai fire officer, who declined to reveal his name, told Reuters while leaning through the window of his engine after freeing a trapped bird from a house situated just a stone's throw away from the stadium.

"It's never good to hear negative things about your city ... and we are still waiting for them to let us know when we can come back," he added referring to the clearance the fire brigade have to give Wankhede before it can host any matches.

All the negative publicity surrounding the imposing 33,000-seater concrete and steel structure, which rises out from the middle of one of Mumbai's poshest areas of Marine Lights, has not gone down well in the neighbourhood.

"After what happened here (when more than 150 people were killed in the 2008 Mumbai attacks), the authorities cannot allow any kind of safety or security lapses. It's really shameful," local resident Mita Mithani told Reuters.

Although the stadium was a no-go area, a cacophony of drilling, hammering and banging sounds could be heard drifting out from inside the arena.

Outside, dozens of workers were busy carrying out a multitude of tasks on the path leading up to the Wankhede.

Some labourers, wearing protective masks, crouched on the ground to weld together metal barriers, while others dragged metre after metre of heavy electric cables from the public roads right up to the stadium entrance.

Even a sign reading "Mumbai Cricket Association" was in a state of disrepair and appeared to be attached precariously on top of a pair of rusted metal poles that looked like they could topple over at any time over the labourers working underneath.

As the arena also failed an inspection by the ICC in December, it was little wonder that officials in charge had closed ranks on Saturday and refused to talk to the media.

Yesterrday's warning once again cast doubts on India's capability as a host of major events after last year's Commonwealth Games in Delhi ended up being a public relations shambles despite a late scramble by the government.

India had intended to showcase its growing financial might through the $6 billion Games in October but organisational blunders in the lead-up to the event turned it into an embarrassment.

There were more red faces in India last month when the ICC shifted the high profile India v England World Cup match, scheduled for 27 February, out of Kolkata's Eden Gardens to Bangalore due to a delay in construction work.