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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 March 2007, 18:08 GMT 19:08 UK
Budding cricketers get TV chance
By Monica Chadha
BBC News, Mumbai

Aspiring cricketer S Prabhu
I have to constantly pinch myself that all this is reality and not a dream
Finalist S Prabhu

Indian cricket fans could not be more depressed than they are now, after the country's miserable performance in the World Cup.

But perhaps there is hope for the cricket-crazy nation in the form of a reality television show that claims it will unearth new cricketing talent at grassroots level.

The show, Cricket Star, first aired in the second week of January and the grand finale, replete with the unveiling of the new discovery, is being broadcast on Tuesday.

Although ratings among cable homes for the show have been quite low, the organisers say many viewers have been watching on national channel Doordarshan.

Passion

In India, where many aspire to play the game yet never get a chance to showcase their skills, this show provides them with exactly that - an opportunity to compete against experienced players.

We really thought we would get a lot of batting talent from Mumbai but it wasn't the best
Indrajit Ray,
Miditech creative director

Organisers auditioned about 6,000 hopefuls in 11 cities and towns across the country to find contestants.

The fight came down to the final 11. The one with most viewers' votes at the end of the season is declared winner.

At stake is a one-year contract with Leicestershire County Cricket Club in the UK.

The show's producers, Miditech, had to sift through thousands of applications for auditions before shortlisting.

Creative director Indrajit Ray told the BBC that passion for cricket had not been in short supply.

Everyone thought they were good enough to play for India, but the difficult part had been finding a mix of passion and talent, he said.

"There were some who had never played cricket on a formal level. Street cricket was all that they had played.

"But they were present at the venue with a tremendous amount of self-belief, they all thought they were brilliant cricketers."

India cricket fans
Indian fans are in the doldrums after World Cup disaster

The producers recounted an instance in the capital, Delhi, when a passer-by decided he wanted to audition for the show and batted on the pitch, dressed in formal attire.

His lack of the right footwear ensured he did not get very far.

Mr Ray said they had found quite a bit of talent in the northern cities of Chandigarh and Delhi as well in Mysore and Madras (Chennai) in the south.

However, Mumbai (Bombay), the city of top Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar had disappointed.

"We really thought we would get a lot of batting talent from Mumbai but it wasn't the best, so that was surprising. There were far more bowlers and all-rounders," he said.

Following the auditions, a panel of four selectors shortlisted the boys, from whom chief selector and former cricketer Robin Singh chose the final 23 contestants.

The boys were put through a rigorous training schedule, including with cricketers who had played for India at international level, such as former captain and bowler Kapil Dev and batsman Sanjay Manjrekar.

Life-changing

They also played matches against members of the current Indian team, such as Harbhajan Singh and Robin Utthapa, and various other teams.

This is great for people like me because through cricket I can get a better life and job
All-rounder Dinesh Salunke

In fact, they even won against the visiting Leicestershire county side.

Show host and former Indian cricketer Ajay Jadeja told the BBC that people who would never otherwise have been selected, had been given opportunities to play and train with some of the best talent in the country.

"One of our contestants was a groundsman. He would prepare the pitch because he had to earn a living, but he always wanted to play cricket so he got a chance here.

"Another one was dumb, could not speak, but really wanted to become a cricketer and showed some talent so he was chosen," he said.

Most of the contestants came from middle and lower middle-class backgrounds.

Cricketer Ajay Jadeja
Show host Jadeja says it's a great opportunity for contestants

One of the finalists, S Prabhu, a wicket keeper and right-hand batsman from Madras, did not have enough money to buy cricketing gear but always dreamed of playing high-level cricket.

He said the experience had changed his life for the better.

"They are training us like the Indian cricket team, we are being taught by top-class cricketers. I have to constantly pinch myself that all this is reality and not a dream."

A big fan of Australian cricketer Adam Gilchrist, he said even if he did not win, he was playing much better than before and would try his luck in other tournaments.

'Reaching out'

Dinesh Salunkhe, a 24-year-old all-rounder from Mumbai, did not think it would be such a big deal when he went to audition for the show. Now he is glad to have made it.

A match in progress
The finalists played matches against established cricketers

"My mother, who would constantly tell me to not play cricket now encourages me after her interview was taken on television! This is great for people like me because through cricket I can get a better life and job," he says.

Cable viewers may not have tuned in in their droves, but organisers Investors In Cricket (IIC), say they are delighted with the response from non-cable homes.

"Our strategy is a little different here in the sense we wanted to reach out to the remote areas, smaller towns and villages where people have never had a chance to showcase their talent," head of communication for IIC India, Dalip Pande, told the BBC.

"There may be no cable in these areas but there is a very high viewership on Doordarshan and our programme on this channel has got the highest ratings for a reality show."

He also said they would be launching a UK version of the programme as well as a second series in India later this year.




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