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01 October 2023

World Cup buzz? No sign yet in Mumbai or Delhi

Indian cricketer Piyush Chawla (2nd L) celebrates with team mates Suresh Raina (L), Harbhajan Singh (C), Virat Kohli (2nd R) and captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni after taking the wicket of New Zealand's James Franklin during a warm-up match ahead of the 2011 World Cup Cricket tournament at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on February 16, 2011. New Zealand have scored 161 runs for five losses in 29 overs after India scored 360 runs at the end of 50 overs. The 2011 Cricket World Cup takes place in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh from February 19-April 2 with 14 nations taking part in the marathon six-week tournament. (AFP)

By Reuters

Cricket's biggest showpiece, the World Cup final, will be staged in India's financial capital Mumbai in little over six weeks but the sport-crazy citizens and casual visitors were hard-pressed to feel much buzz this week.

True, several television channels here are feeding this country's ravenous appetite for the sport with hour after hour of endless chat and punditry and streamed highlights of previous tournaments in the build-up to the Feb 19-April 2 tournament.

As ever, India's warm-up games elsewhere in the country have been watched in packed stadiums.

But take a walk through the bustling streets of Mumbai, a contrasting city in which grinding poverty and the fanciest office blocks stand as the unlikeliest of next door neighbours, and you will not see a single official World Cup poster or banner.

"We've been talking about it, everybody's talking about it -- there's just no buzz yet," one Mumbai office worker summed up on Wednesday.

"I am seeing restaurant pamphlets along with newspapers which are saying they would show the matches live but I have not seen many posters or festoons on the street," 15-year-old Rushabh Jajal, a cricket-mad schoolboy, told Reuters.

"I have also checked on internet that the Mumbai match tickets are very expensive so people are not talking too much about it, I guess."

Similarly, residents in New Delhi, another important centre for the Cup, were scratching their heads wondering where the razzamatazz was.

"I'm not sure of match schedules. I drive in and around the city and have not seen anything anywhere. The match schedule appeared in a newspaper and my son has cut that portion of the paper and pasted it on the door," cab driver Narsingh Narayan Tiwari told Reuters.

The lack of promotional posters or banners was also puzzling Shreyosi Banerjee, a corporate communication professional, from Delhi.

"Mutual fund? Yes. Home loan, insurance, movies releases -- all yes. But World Cup? I have not seen any. In fact if you don't watch TV and read newspapers, you would not know such a thing is taking place!

"It seems they don't believe in an outdoor media campaign."

The contrast with the last World Cup in 2007 where the final venue Bridgetown in Barbados was festooned with banners and posters months before the big game could not be more stark.

The event, which starts on Saturday, has been seen as a chance for India to show the world it has matured into a modern, rapidly developing nation and growing economic powerhouse, comfortably capable of hosting a global sporting tournament.

For many observers, last October's Commonwealth Games in New Delhi was an opportunity lost, the build-up dominated by horror stories of flooded, inhabitable athletes' accommodation, unfinished infrastructure and other organisational mess-ups.

The Cricket World Cup, we were told, would be different. This is home territory for India, and its fellow hosts Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, for whom the sport is almost a religion and its top performers are treated like Bollywood stars.

So far, however, the omens for a successful tournament have not been particularly encouraging.

Construction improvements to Eden Gardens, Kolkata's famous old ground which was built in the heyday of the British Raj in the 1860s, were not completed in time to be deemed fit for use for India's much awaited clash with England on Feb. 27.

Now Mumbai's Wankhede ground, which will stage the final on April 2, and Eden Gardens have been given a clean bill of health for the rest of the tournament, the main concern was more the lack of a 'World Cup atmosphere' or that indefinable 'buzz'.

Haroon Lorgat, chief executive of the International Cricket Council, was questioned about the lack of street promotion at its final venue city by Reuters earlier this week.

"To some extent we are dependent on the host city. If you go to some of the other cities you'll be bowled over but what they've been able to create," he said.

"Overall I'm quite thrilled by the promotional campaign we're engaged in ... there's been lots of excitement and lots of activity. I'm quite satisfied."

Mumbai will see more hype and promotion closer to its first match in the city, New Zealand v Canada on March 13, former India cricketer and current Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) joint secretary Lalchand Rajput said.

"There is lot of hype. If you see the television there is lot of stuff about the World Cup. But actually you don't need much hype for a cricketing event in India," Rajput, whose MCA is in charge of the Wankhede Stadium told Reuters.

"In a city like Mumbai, where more than a million people stay, we are going to have a lot of problems in accommodating people in the stadium."