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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 March 2007, 16:01 GMT
World Cup frenzy grips India
By Monica Chadha
BBC News, Mumbai

Cricket fever is sweeping across India

The World Cup cricket tournament has begun - and for India it does not get any better or bigger than this.

The cricket-crazy country is rooting for its team known popularly as the "men in blue" after the colour of their kit and the fever is peaking on the eve of the team's first match against Bangladesh on Saturday.

One fan in Jharkhand state has threatened to commit suicide if he is not allowed to sell his kidney to get the money needed for a ticket to the West Indies, where the tournament is being held.

Another fan, Zaheer Merchant, saved money to buy a 29-inch television set for the tournament and has literally put his life on hold for the next two months to watch the matches.

Prayers for the India cricket team

"My wife knows I am unavailable when cricket is on. I will be going in to work late so that I can stay up until late evening to watch the action. I haven't asked for any leave but I am expecting some illness in the next few days," he said.

Many companies, especially business outsourcing firms, have set up large screens in their cafeterias so that people can track the matches during work that begin late in the evening in India and continue into the early hours.

Indians are crazy about cricket and Bollywood movies and follow both with an almost religious passion.

It is common for people to walk up to complete strangers and ask "what's the score now?" and bond over beers at pubs debating whether captain Rahul Dravid made the right decision by changing the batting or bowling order.

Mania

India's matches are expected bring in television audiences in excess of 280 million.

Actress Mandira Bedi in a sari signed by Indian cricketers
Shops are selling saris signed by the cricketers

And this has pushed big companies to cough up millions of dollars on special products and advertisements as part of their marketing campaign around the cricket frenzy.

An international credit card company hired Bollywood music directors Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy to compose a special "Inspire India" song that has been released on radio and a television commercial that exhorts the team to win.

A soft drinks giant launched a gold-coloured cola that, according to the company, "symbolises every Indian cricket fan's desire to bring home the gold-coloured World Cup trophy".

The cola company even organised a glitzy farewell evening for the team with Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan and actress Priyanka Chopra wishing them good luck.

To add to the excitement, an international sportswear brand has released its first-ever cricket advert on television which has become a talking point with fans of the game.

The advertisement shows a bunch of boys stuck in a traffic jam who suddenly begin playing cricket on the roof of a bus and passers-by getting involved in the game and playing it as well.

Mobile games, access to scores, match updates and cricket clips on cell phones, soft drinks, sporting merchandise, even special birthday cakes in various shapes related to the game - anything and everything at this point in time is related to the big cricketing event.

A juice shop in Mumbai has even begun serving juice in a replica of the World Cup trophy while a restaurant in Amritsar has gone blue by dressing its staff in the team's shirts.

Bollywood calling

Not to be left behind, Bollywood is launching three movies with cricket themes.

Indian cricket fans get their hair styled as they gear up for the Cricket World Cup
Indian fans are getting their hair styled after their idols

The first of them, called Hattrick, will be released this week - a comedy about five people whose lives revolve around the game.

Siddharth Roy Kapur of producers UTV said it was timed to chime with the public mood.

Mr Kapur also said he did not think the film would fail to attract audiences who would be too busy watching matches and live action at home.

"The quality of matches revs up in the later rounds such as Super Eight and the finals, rather than in the elimination rounds, and that's when we are trying to get people to watch the film."

There are two other films also based on cricket but they are still in production and are expected to be released later in the year.

Some multiplexes are also exploring the idea of showing the semi-finals and finals on the big screen.

Expensive destination

Travel agents, however, seem to have missed out on some of the initial action as not many people have chosen to travel all the way to the West Indies.

Fans signing good wish messages on a bat made out of sand
Fans sign messages wishing the team good luck

Most travel agents have introduced special packages and expect business to pick up closer to the finals but at present, it is all about answering queries.

A spokesman for Thomas Cook, Sachin Rampal, said the distance and cost of travel had been two major deterrents to people packing their bags and heading off to the West Indies.

"If it was South Africa, Europe or Australia, the response would have been better because these destinations are closer. It costs about 300,000-500,000 rupees ($6,800-$11,300) for the ticket alone and infrastructure in the West Indies in terms of hotels and places to stay is not all that good," he said.

Mr Rampal said they had received queries from some of their corporate clients who have shown interest in travelling in the latter stages of the World Cup and they expect other customers to do the same.

Amidst all this cricketing craze and advertising blitzkrieg, ad film maker Prahlad Kakkar says everyone has "completely lost the plot".

"No one is watching the game that they claim they are so crazy about, it's all about winning. There is so much pressure being put on the boys that if they buckle then it is all over," he said.

Mr Kakkar said while cashing in on the obsession of people around the game is all very well, the biggest sufferer is cricket itself because people will stop watching and enjoying it as soon as the Indian team loses.

As for the advertising millions riding on the event, Mr Kakkar said it is always a big gamble and most companies are aware that their two-month campaign could easily end in two weeks.

Meanwhile, the game goes on. While all the action is taking place halfway around the world from India, the country is tracking it ball by ball and the cheers sometimes may be loud enough for the team to hear.




SEE ALSO
South Asia's cricket obsession
21 Dec 06 |  South Asia
The precarious cricket economy
13 Feb 07 |  South Asia

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