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One day game penetrates the heart of modern Mumbai

 MUMBAI: Reflecting the shift in power from England and Australia to India and the money pouring into the modern game, Mumbai is the perfect venue for the 50 overs World Cup final.

India embraced one-day cricket with a passion after their national team upset West Indies in the 1983 World Cup final.

Their ambitious administrators then upset the powerbrokers at Lord's by successfully bidding for the 1987 World Cup, which was shared with Pakistan, after England had staged the first three tournaments.

The World Cup returned to the sub-continent in 1996, as television and sponsorship money began to pour into the game, and today one-day cricket in India has evolved into a brash amalgam of sport and show business.

"I would say the sub-continent is the place to play cricket, the buzz, the excitement, the hype around the game," Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara, whose team play India in Saturday's final, remarked on Friday.

The fascination with cricket penetrates deep into the Indian soul with Mumbai supplying the heartbeat of the one-day game. Shivaji Park, where Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar once played, is crowded with countless matches. Small boys play spontaneous street games, dodging the traffic to retrieve the ball.

Cricket was first played in Mumbai, formerly Bombay, by the Parsis, a community of fire-worshippers who fled Persia with the arrival of Islam.


Cricket spread to each of the religious communities, who formed their own clubs. India's first great spin bowler Palwankar Baloo, was an untouchable who eventually played for the Hindus when they defeated the European for the first time in 1906.

India's three greatest batsmen; Tendulkar, Gavaskar and Vijay Merchant came from Mumbai.

"Whatever I am in the game today is due to the fact that I have been nursed in the cradle of cricket that is Bombay," said Gavaskar, the wonderful opening batsman who was the first man to pass 10,000 test runs and score 30 centuries.

It is impossible to escape the World Cup in modern Mumbai with the news channels, as well as the sports networks, running endless cricket stories and interviews with former luminaries of the game.

The death of former England off-spinner Fred Titmus was accorded equal status on the breaking news ticker on one channel with that of Hollywood great Elizabeth Taylor.

Then there are the fans, the waiters who discuss the intricacies of reverse swing at breakfast and the throngs waiting for hours outside the Wankhede Stadium for a glimpse of the Indian team before Saturday's final.

One taxi driver sold his vehicle, effectively disposing of his means of livelihood, to buy a ticket for the Mohali semi-final between India and Pakistan. Tickets with a face value of 5,000 Indian rupees ($112.5) for the final are changing hands at more than 12 times the prices.

Mumbai partied long into the early hours after India beat Pakistan. The celebrations if they become the first home team to win the trophy can only be imagined.

Copyright Reuters, 2011