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South Africa goes crazy for Indian cricket

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IPL arrives in South Africa

By Krivani Pillay, Johannesburg

South Africa is pulling out all the stops as it prepares to host cricket's Indian Premier League in Cape Town.

Given that the IPL's opening ceremony is just four days before the South African national elections, it is no wonder that cricket and political posters are vying for the top spot in outdoor advertising.

Along the main road in Johannesburg, IPL posters, with the slogan "The heat is coming", compete for space with the election posters of parties such as the ANC, the newly-formed Cope and the Democratic Alliance (DA).

Just days after the announcement that South Africa would be IPL's home for the second season, more than 100 Facebook groups had been started.

And an average of 80% of tickets have already been sold for each match.

Instant cash injection

Cleo Leshoro, 32, is not normally a cricket fan but she is concerned that she has yet to get her hands the elusive tickets.


I've been a cricket fan for a long time but I have never seen such excitement surround a cricket tournament before
South African Stephen Kirker

"It's an opportunity to watch the games, be part of the entertainment that comes with the IPL - especially Bollywood. I get to learn about that culture that is very different to mine," she said.

In a drive through Randburg, a suburb of Johannesburg, I was stopped by two vendors trying to sell IPL cricket paraphernalia.

With the elections looming, they jokingly suggest that perhaps Shane Warne's new delivery should be called "the Zuma" (after the man tipped to be the next president) instead of "the zooter".

With the economy not immune to the global slowdown, reports that the tournament could provide a 1m rand ($112,000; £75,000) cash injection direct to the tax coffers are other reason to cheer.

Kamil Reddy, 32, a computer science PhD student at the University of Pretoria, says the economic benefits will be felt widely.

He points out that thousands of people will require accommodation for the duration of the tournament, from players to officials and fans.

"In addition they will frequent restaurants and tourist attractions and make use of local transport."

But for Mr Reddy, it is not all about the money.

He too is an avid cricket fan, who watched the IPL last year on TV.

"It was some of the most exciting cricket I've ever watched. So, to have it come to SA is awesome - especially with the prospect of watching it live."

Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty in Cape Town on 16/4/09
Bollywood stars such as Shilpa Shetty are also drawing the crowds

He is quick to add that these games cannot quite be compared to South Africa's hosting of the Cricket World Cup in 2003 because that "was a matter of national pride".

"Since I'm South African, that means a lot more to me. The IPL is an Indian tournament we just happen to be hosting due to unfortunate circumstances," he said.

"The World Cup is also a bigger tournament due to the fact that it's nation vs nation, rather than franchise vs franchise."

Stephen Kirker, 40, is a dad of two teenagers and would like to attend as many games as possible in Gauteng province with the entire family.

For Stephen, the IPL is a "breath of fresh air".

"I've been a cricket fan for a long time but I have never seen such excitement surround a cricket tournament before," he said.

"Personally, I prefer first class cricket - but the interest that IPL has generated has created a new interest in that format for me."

Bollywood glamour

Mr Reddy does have some concerns about security - the reason why the tournament was switched from India.

He says attacks could happen anywhere but he does not think that is very likely, "which is why I intend going to a match or two".

Varshan Sookhun, 29, host of a Bollywood chart show on the Lotus FM radio station, says that security is the last thing on the minds of Bollywood fans in Durban.

They want to see the Bollywood stars, the cricket heroes and their Wags (wives and girlfriends).

Mumbai Indian cricket team members in Cape Town on 16/4/09
Security fears in India led to the last-minute change of venue

With Durban home to the largest number of Indians in a city outside India, it is not surprising that tickets there are almost sold out.

"I'm inundated with calls and requests from listeners about the games and the actors," he said.

"A listener from Cape Town called me about securing a spot in the city so that she could get a glimpse of her favourite Bollywood actors and cricket players during the IPL parade. She was not at all concerned about the outcome of the matches."

Bollywood star and owner of the Kolkotta Knight Riders, Shah Rakh Khan, has attracted the most attention here.

He told me in an interview last week he was sad that the game was not in his home country as the sporting code is followed like a religion.

However, based on the South Africans' response so far, it seems as if Mr Khan will have nothing to worry about.

IPL chairman and commissioner Lalit Modi and his team have taken two-and-a-half weeks to do what Ali Bacher did in two-and-a-half years when he South Africa hosted the Cricket World Cup.

But the bottom line is that this cricket-crazed nation is lapping it all up.

I for one have secured a seat at the Wanderers cricket ground in Johannesburg as soon as I am done covering our own national elections.

Krivani Pillay is a producer/anchor for the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).



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