Millions of fans agog as World Cup final looms
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Millions of fans agog as World Cup final looms

MUMBAI, India (AP) — Some estimates suggest one-sixth of humanity watched the blockbuster World Cup semifinal India vs. Pakistan on Wednesday.

Given that India’s population alone is now about 1.21 billion, the television audience is expected to break cricket records again for Saturday’s final, even if the rivalry between India and Sri Lanka isn’t quite as fierce.

India has waited 28 years since its last World Cup win. For that reason alone, no one in this cricket-obsessed nation is likely to miss the showdown match against Sri Lanka. Newspapers have been jammed full of World Cup stories, while coverage of TV news channels has been constant.

But the World Cup isn’t just causing a boom in traditional forms of media.

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Indians watch on a television set the ICC World Cup cricket semifinal match between India and Pakistan, on a street in Mumbai, India, Wednesday, March 30, 2011. Pic: AP.

During India vs. Pakistan, the so-called “final before the final,” the game accounted for at least half of the top 10 trending topics on Twitter in India throughout the day.

It also regularly appeared among the most popular topics worldwide, eye-opening especially given cricket’s relatively small global footprint.

Among the more notable postings were from India tennis star Sania Mirza and her husband, Pakistan cricketer Shoaib Malik. They were married last year.

“Bad luck to Pakistan..fantastic win by India but job only half done..one more to go..phheww..now I can go practice in peace..GO INDIA,” Mirza tweeted.

A message from her husband read: “Today the Pakistani cricket team has given the whole Pakistan a lot to cheer and smile about..we are proud of you boys…”

Nearly 24 hours after the match, indvpak was still the top trending topic in India. Countless more social media addicts were posting messages on Facebook, where an India Cricket page received more than 1,000 comments during the game.

“This time world cup is ours….” wrote one fan, while another simply put: “World Cup belongs to India.”

The marketing people have pounced on the opportunity to promote their brands across all forms of media, using cricket’s immense popularity in India.

Nike’s “Bleed Blue” campaign, for example, is ubiquitous. It adorns posters across India, is played out regularly during the countless advertising breaks during games and has more than a million “likes” on Facebook. Pepsi’s “Change The Game” can boast similar figures.

People, it seems, are desperate to soak up the World Cup — and the Indian cricket team — in whatever form possible.

Sachin Tendulkar, the undoubted talisman of the India team and sporting hero to so many Indians, endorses 16 different brands. Rarely an advert break goes by without the world’s greatest batsman popping up on the TV screen.

It is a sign, if any were needed, of why India is the game’s superpower, with the value of its television rights alone giving it huge clout on the international stage.

A sixth of the world’s population might well be watching and interacting during Saturday’s World Cup final — the vast majority of them will be in India, the world’s largest democracy.