Vic Marks: Bollywood finish but too much soap opera

It’s a shock to the system that it’s all over. There must be another match between Zimbabwe and Canada going on somewhere in the sub-continent.

The 2011 World Cup has been like a soap opera in India, something happening every day, some of which was of little or no import, but occasionally there was earth-shattering news like Virender Sehwag suffering a twinge to his knee or the arrival at nets of Sachin Tendulkar with a stash of fresh bats.

Every day there has been some cricket to watch on the TV. Every channel has devoted hours to this World Cup. It has been a pundit’s paradise.

Most of them made John McCririck seem as staid and downbeat as dear old Jim Laker on a dull day at Headingley. There was not much space for balanced, measured argument. But somewhere there was a space for Salman Butt. Your correspondent, you will be unsurprised to hear, was restricted to the radio.

The soap opera almost had the perfect climax. There was Sachin and Murali seeking the ultimate swansong that would have tears streaming down the cheeks in Colombo and Mumbai. But the cricketing gods are not quite so hell-bent on the saccharine conclusion.

But how they like their soap operas over here. As a result the TV ratings have been astronomical; advertising rates have soared and when that happens those who run world cricket, for whom profit is nirvana, wear their broadest smiles.

If it was a brilliantly successful TV event in India, it was not quite so enjoyable for spectators, who required the stamina of a long distance runner and the constitution of a camel. Watching cricket here for those more familiar with Canterbury or Worcester was very exhausting and rather intrusive.

There were the constant body searches. Nobody was permitted to take a plastic bottle of water into the ground, no food either. Sometimes even the mobile phone was banned. One entrepreneur set up a parking stall for mobile phones just outside the ground in Ahmedabad. And it was very hot.

Yet the World Cup exceeded nearly everyone’s expectations. Now that may not being saying too much. Beforehand we (why am I being so regal?) moaned about the format. And we were right too. Even for the soap opera lovers it surely went on too long.

Why so many minnows? Why not two matches per day in the qualification process? Because that maximised the income, of course.

England kept the tournament alive for a month with a wee bit of help from the Irish and the Indians. Group B, even though it produced the expected quarter-finalists, was always diverting and occasionally dangerous.

The West Indies bus was stoned in Dhaka, but the culprits did have the grace to apologise; they thought it was Bangladesh’s bus. So that was alright.

Group A was utterly predictable. Overall, we had to make do with little gems: the run-out of Ricky Ponting against Zimbabwe, which spelt the end of a television screen; a staggering century from Ross Taylor against Pakistan; Murali hobbling up, tormenting tail-enders.

The knock-out stages saw me following India all the way to Mumbai, despite a gutsy century from Ponting. In Ahmedabad the tranquillity of Mahatma Gandhi’s Ashram was not transferred to a cacophonous stadium. This was India’s World Cup final, we were told, against Australia, the champions in the previous three tournaments.

Thence to fortress Chandigarh, where the distractions did not quite take over. There were troops galore, prime ministers winging in, a no fly zone imposed and a chronic shortage of hotel rooms. Yet the cricket eventually took precedence. This was India’s World Cup final, we were told, against Pakistan, their age-old rivals.

And then to Mumbai for the Bollywood climax. This was India’s World Cup final, we were told, against Sri Lanka. And this time they were right. India beat the best teams in the competition when it mattered. They deserved the trophy.

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