Chaos reigns as India gears for Pak tour

Published: Wednesday, January 26, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
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New Delhi:A month before India hosts Pakistan's cricket team, there is confusion over venues, broadcasting rights are embroiled in a court tussle and the proposed dates clash with school and college examinations.

Worse, India's star batsman Sachin Tendulkar, recovering from an elbow injury, is unsure if he will be fit to play.

Who cares? Certainly not the bean counters. The tour is assured of raking in millions of dollars with sponsors lining up to lend their names to the most high-profile event in the cricket calender.

Pakistan are scheduled to play three Tests and five one-day internationals during a seven-week tour, returning the visit after India crossed the borders for their first Test series in Pakistan in 15 years in early 2004.

The unprecedented hype generated by last year's tour reportedly netted the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) a profit of 20 million dollars, a record outside the four-yearly World Cup.

The host broadcaster on that tour, the Dubai-based Ten Sports, charged a whopping 10,000 dollars for each 10-second advertising spot as millions of cricket fanatics on both sides of the border watched Tendulkar face up to Pakistani speedster Shoaib Akhtar.

Media analysts predict lower returns this time since an India-Pakistan clash is no more a novelty -- the rivals have faced off in four one-day internationals since July -- but large corporates are still expected to be generous with their seemingly unlimited resources.

Nothing sells like cricket in the sub-continent.

"The rates will be lower this time, but what is certain is that every inch of advertising space will be taken," said Sam Balsara of Madison Media.

For that to happpen, however, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) needs to get its act together quickly.

The TV rights issue -- described by one marketing analyst as "a mess" -- is before the Supreme Court following a dispute between Zee Telefilms, who won the original four-year bid for a record 308 million dollars, and ESPN-Star Sports, a joint venture of Disney and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

The BCCI cancelled Zee's bid and sold two recent home series against Australia and South Africa and a one-off international against Pakistan, to national broadcaster Doordarshan.

The revenue earned by Doordarshan from the ad hoc arrangement, estimated to be around 23 million dollars, has been deposited with the Supreme Court pending a final settlement of the case.

In case the court is unable to settle the wrangle before the Pakistanis land here on February 25, the BCCI will again be forced to have an ad hoc arrangement with Doordarshan since both Zee and ESPN-Star are temporarily out of bounds.

The sharp divisions within the BCCI have also delayed finalising Pakistan's schedule a month before they land here.

A two-member PCB team, including security expert Sohail Khan, is currently in India inspecting proposed venues. One Test venue suggested by India is Ahmedabad, the main city in the western state of Gujarat where at least 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in communal riots in 2002.

It remains to be seen if Pakistan agree to play in Ahmedabad.

If that is not enough, various cities are battling each other for the right to host the tourists and enrich their coffers.

The final itinerary is unlikely to be known before the first week of February, giving the chosen venues less than a month to make arrangements.

"All in good time," a BCCI official told AFP. "Deadlines don't worry us. As long as we make good money everything will be fine."

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