NEW DELHI (Reuters Life!) - Vikram Ray tucks into a chocolate pastry dripping with ice cream and says he is all set to scream himself hoarse cheering for India, where millions are caught up in cricket fever days before the World Cup.
The problem is he is spoilt for choice of venues as hotels, bars, shopping malls, movie halls and public parks across the cricket-crazy nation become viewing galleries for fans to watch the tournament that begins in the West Indies next week.
India, along with 15 other countries, will play for the game’s most coveted prize over the next six weeks in the Caribbean and interest is soaring at home.
“I want to shout and shout along with others, and feel the patriotism,” said Ray, a 20-year-old college student with brown streaked hair, speaking at a trendy coffee shop in New Delhi.
Near his table, a large white board put up by the coffee shop is filled with messages of support for the Indian team, preparing for the six-week tournament that starts on March 13 across nine Caribbean nations.
One message reads: “We will win the war in the Windies.”
India play Bangladesh on March 17 and TV networks are stirring up support with “Cheer-for-India” campaigns.
Weavers are making saris with top batsman Saurav Ganguly’s image in his home state of West Bengal, while in New Delhi, girls in short skirts and pompoms attract bemused stares from men as they do a jig, sponsored by corporates and media houses.
In the coastal state of Orissa, a young musician has shot a music video in which he attempts to play cricket underwater. Elsewhere, special prayers in temples are being said.
“WE NEED THE WORLD CUP”
India’s multitude of TV channels, fighting for a slice of the viewership pie in a nation of 1.1 billion people, are tracking the build-up in minute detail.
“Good luck India, we need the World Cup,” Bollywood action icon Akshay Kumar tells a TV news channel, which claims to be the “official network of the Indian cricket fan.”
A rival channel asks viewers to send text messages as part of a contest to find the “craziest” cricket fan in India where national players are often more popular than Bollywood stars.
“They have to feed their 24-hour channels and everyone wants to jump onto the bandwagon,” said Poonam Saxena, a media critic. “If someone wants to get away from cricket, he or she will have to leave the country.”
Hotels are also installing flat-screen TVs on bar tables for customers to watch matches that will start in the evening and end early morning local time.
For the peckish, “googly pasta” and “century noodles” are offered at a restaurant in the western city of Ahmedabad.
But amid all the hype, experts are warning against inflated expectations that could end in disappointment.
They point out that during the previous World Cup in South Africa in 2003, angry fans damaged batsman Rahul Dravid’s car and attacked team mate Mohammad Kaif’s house after India’s loss to Australia in a preliminary match.
“It is totally unfair on the 11 young boys that people burden their lives’ expectations on them,” Ramachandra Guha, a cricket historian and writer, said.
“We are raising expectations too high. India has a mediocre team that is unlikely to win.”
Additional reporting by Prithwish Ganguly in New Delhi and Rupam Jain Nair in Ahmedabad
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