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The buildup in England, where most World Cup matches will be played--there will also be games in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands--has been more reserved. Most Britons, says Matthew Engel, editor of the annual Wisden Cricketers' Almanac, "would be hard pressed to name more than five" of England's 15-man World Cup squad. Says Bill Sinrich, who runs the London sports management firm TransWorld International: "The center of gravity of the game has moved to the subcontinent." That's not only true in terms of perceived levels of popular support; subcontinental stars dominate one-day international (ODI) cricket. India's Sachin Tendulkar, expected to be one of the major forces in his team's bid to win a second Cup for India (the first came in 1983) has scored more ODI centuries than any other player. Pakistan's Wasim Akram has the most ODI wickets; second on the all-time list is his bowling partner Waqar Younis. And Sri Lanka, long considered the weakest of the subcontinental teams, revolutionized the one-day game by attacking at the beginning of their innings, instead of building a score with conservative batting.

That crowd-pleasing style, copied by India and Pakistan, has won huge television audiences. South Asia's hundreds of millions of cricket fans have driven up the price of broadcast rights to one-day tournaments. Asian broadcasters Star/ ESPN, India's state-owned Doordarshan channel and Sri Lanka's Swarnawahini accounted for more than half the $45 million that the England and Wales Cricket Board received for global TV rights to the World Cup. Of the tournament's four corporate sponsors, three--Pepsi, LG Electronics and Emirates Airways--are aiming their message primarily at subcontinental audiences.

Overall, the ECB expects that in Britain the World Cup will generate revenues of $70 million; in India, businesses are predicted to spend that much during the tournament in TV advertising alone. The increase in investment has been steep. The money generated through corporate sponsorship for the 1987 World Cup--staged in India and Pakistan--came to less than $1 million; by 1996, when India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka next hosted the Cup, corporate cash amounted to $23.5 million. The Board of Control for Cricket in India grossed just $1 million in 1992, mostly from TV rights for games played in India and team sponsorships; seven years later, the figure is $12 million. Says BCCI secretary Y.J. Lele: "This is the only game generating money in India today." Says Engel: "There's so much money in cricket in South Asia, it gives them tremendous power to influence the game." In 1996, that power helped India's Jagmohan Dalmiya become the first Asian to be elected head of the sport's governing body, the International Cricket Council.

But there's a potentially catastrophic downside to South Asia's World Cup mania. "The economic implications of hundreds of thousands of people taking sick leave to watch cricket are enormous," says Sanjoy Bhattacharya, a Bombay financial analyst. "Nobody has done the math, but it's a safe bet that the damage to the combined economies of South Asia will run into billions of dollars." Some in the region are less concerned with finances than with cricket's worth as a distraction. "Most people in this country look to cricket to bring them joy in a situation where there is nothing much to look forward to," says Dev Ananda, a researcher at the Centre for Policy Alternatives in Sri Lanka, where civil war has cost thousands of lives since 1983.

Sri Lanka's World Cup win boosted more than the spirits of its citizens. In 1995, the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka had an income of just $450,000. Two years after defeating Australia in the final at Lahore, its income was $3.8 million. Players across the subcontinent are cashing in. In Sri Lanka, opening batsman Jayasuriya earns around $100,000 a year from cricket, and perhaps twice as much again off the field--a vast sum in a country where the average annual income is $840. But he's worth it; says Sandrasekeram Shanmuganathan, marketing director of Union Bank, which employs Jayasuriya as a pitchman: "When Sanath does well on the field, we have noticed that deposits increase considerably." India's Sachin Tendulkar--a high-school dropout in a country where until the 1970s very few cricketers could even make a living from the sport--is said to be the subcontinent's richest cricketer, with conservative estimates putting his annual income from endorsements, promotions and media appearances at $1 million. Money is even being made retrospectively. Mohinder Amarnath, Roger Binny and Madan Lal, veterans of India's 1983 World Cup victory, never appeared in an advertisement during their playing days but now promote a consumer electronics manufacturer.

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May 17, 1999

Days of Glory
Once a novelty, the one-day showcase now delivers the best contest on earth, thanks in large part to the passion and excellence of the game's Asian exponents

Who's Who
A look at some of the game's top batsmen

World Cup Finals
The memorable matches which set the stage for World Cup 1999

This edition's table of contents | TIME Asia home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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