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For India, cricket overshadows 60th birthday celebrations

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Mihir Bose | 18:50 UK time, Tuesday, 14 August 2007

English cricket followers may console themselves with the thought that despite losing the Test series to India there was not a huge difference between the two sides.

After all, England could and probably should have won the first Test at Lord's. And given that India's record in England has generally been to lose the first Test and then try in vain to catch up it could have meant a different result.

But there was one area where there was a huge difference between the two nations. This was the way the series was seen and reported in the two countries.


While the series received its fair share of media attention in England, particularly in the broadsheet papers, it never really displaced football from the back pages or become an absorbing media issue.

Not so in India.

I have just spent a week in India making a couple of films for the 10 O'Clock News to mark the 60th anniversary of India's independence.

What struck me was that much more than the forthcoming 60th birthday it was cricket that dominated almost everything.

In comparison to the coverage given to cricket the visitor might have been forgiven for thinking that the 60th birthday was a fairly minor event.

The coverage ranged across the huge expanse of the Indian media, both written and electronic. The television coverage was not confined to the ball-by-ball telecast from England. The many 24-hour news channels carried the score continuously and when there were moments of umpiring controversy there were television inquests chaired by former players.

An England-India Test series, of course, always excites more interest in India than it does in England. In England it never has quite the emotional charge of an Ashes series. An England series means much more to the Indians.

But this series acquired greater significance. It came after the trauma of being knocked out in the first round of the World Cup. India won only one match against a non-Test playing country, losing both its matches to Test nations Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and did not even make it to the Super Eights.

The result was India lost their coach, Greg Chappell, and there were furious inquests about whether the players, many of whom have fabulous contracts, were just playing for the endorsements rather than for their country.

Just before the tour began the Indian cricket board tried and failed to get a coach and the team came to England without one. Instead it was managed by a 73-year-old former captain Chandu Borde.

All these issues were feverishly debated in the Indian media - a debate that was conducted not only by Indians but also Test players from other countries such as Ian Chappell, the former Australia captain, and Geoffrey Boycott.

(The Indian media has taken to ghosted columns from cricketers with a vengeance and many of these columns are sponsored. So next to the byline is the sponsor’s logo, making an interesting marriage of journalism and advertising.)

Not surprisingly, India's victory in the series - the first since 1986, suggesting the side, once considered terrible travellers, are learning how to win abroad - has generated feverish interest.

It has often been said that cricket is the greatest British legacy that India has inherited. However, the way the Indians report the cricket and the enthusiasm that they bring to it indicates how very differently Indians see the game.

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