Vol. 5 Num 990 Wed. March 14, 2007  

ICC Cricket World Cup West Indies 2007
India not crazy yet

If it's the cricket World Cup, India must be going crazy. After all, a billion Indians, who make up most of the world's cricket-watching population, are supposed to be hooked on the game like no other country.

But as the ninth World Cup opened in the Caribbean on Sunday, the mercury to test the fever gripping the nation barely showed a rise.

The late evening starts on the other side of the globe, combined with career-defining school examinations in March-April and the excessive media hype has dampened the enthusiasm of many a cricket lover.

Estimates that Sunday's opening ceremony in Jamaica would draw a worldwide audience of 1.5 billion were clearly off the mark. The country of a billion did not get to watch it.

The event was blacked out by rights-holders Sony, which runs Set Max. "We were not sure how many people would be interested in it," a spokesman for the channel was quoted as saying in Tuesday's Hindustan Times.

The hype and hoopla seem to be restricted mainly to the media. Many believe they have gone overboard with cheer-the-team and good luck campaigns.

A horde of jaded former cricketers in tow, round-the-clock news TV channels are airing shows with imaginative tag lines such as "War in the Windies," "Caribbean Calypso" and "LOC" (love of cricket).

The popular dailies have not lagged behind, devoting as much space as possible to reports, columns and interviews arranged by players' managers.

The fans, meanwhile, are waiting for the matches to begin -- India open their campaign against Bangladesh in Trinidad on Saturday -- to see how the team fares before joining in the madness.

"The hype is meaningless unless our team does well," said Pritam Sinha, an executive.

"The ludicrous coverage by the channels -- some even interviewed astrologers to forecast how India will perform -- only leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

"I get this feeling that the media is hyping the World Cup only to attract more advertisements for themselves."

For Pratik Mishra, involved in school-leaving exams, the World Cup could not have come at a worse time.

"I really don't know how I am going to balance my studies and watching TV," he said. "If I stay up the night to watch matches, I won't be able to study during the day.

"Cricket is a definite no-no for me till my exams end in April."

College student Rohit Jaiswal said watching matches on television in India was not a pleasant experience.

"There are advertisement breaks at the drop of a hat, sometimes even during overs," he said. "It just devalues the excitement of watching."

The exorbitant cost of travelling to the Caribbean -- with hotel rates anywhere between 500-800 US dollars a night -- is keeping the die-hard cricket fans away.

"We had thousands queuing up to make the trip to South Africa four years ago, but there are very few bookings this time," said travel agent Raja Hoon.

"If you still see Indians at the World Cup, they will probably have come from the United States or Canada."

Hoon explained that an eight-night tour to the Caribbean, which a month back was offered for 350,000 rupees (7,800 dollars), is now available for 250,000 rupees.

"The travel industry has been forced to drop rates because there were few people interested," said Hoon.

"There were at least 50,000 Indians who travelled to South Africa for the 2003 World Cup. We will be happy if 5,000 make it this time."

Hoon, however, conceded all that could change if India made it to the semifinals.

"I am not a cricket fanatic to pray for our team, but this time I will be saying a few prayers."

An Indian cricket fan shows off his new haircut, styled in support of Saurav Ganguly, at a hair salon in Howrah, near Kolkata on Tuesday. PHOTO: AFP