Of ESPN, Sony & DD

IS the spell cast by World Cup Football broken at last? Depends. For those genuinely football-committed The Vision must abide. For those 'spot' on in switching, 'Lagaan' style, to 'Akhtar Hyderabadi' and Cricket, that model miss leaving Aamir Khan Coca-Cola 'pyaasa' (with her 'Bhaiya' address) I flesh out as Rimi Sen. Sense a thriller we do in the Thursday India-England triangular encounter. The viewership for this 'Colonial Cousins' face-off must come as a third eye-opener to cricket-centric watchers vis-a-vis the hold that football now has on viewer imagination. The expectation is that, at least on the Indian small screen, cricket is back as the No. 1 spectator sport. Seeing how this July 4 India-England contest is the key one now for Sourav's India interlocked in NatWest triangular conflict.

Chester-le-Street is no familiar England-India playing venue for us watchers. Certainly not day-and-night. How Nasser Hussain and his men have come on since touring India was manifest to all those TV aficionados lucky enough to late-night witness the 6 overs in which England smashed off the 50 runs needed (at good Old Trafford) to Test-trounce Sri Lanka 2-0. Sri Lanka sans Muttiah Muralitharan now is like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. The Sri Lankan ball should therefore logically be landing on the sweetmeat of the bat for Sourav's India at Edgbaston this Saturday afternoon. Only, Sri Lanka has this rare ability to raise its one-day game when up against India and Anil Kumble! There are thus no free lunches for Sourav and his men even during the day-matches in this triangular series.

The NatWest ODI coverage by ESPN should be making illuminating viewing considering this channel is totally dependent on the English parallel, Sky Sports, for the picture here. The ESPN commentators have thus willy-nilly to adjust to the Sky Sports visuals as they unfold. This is something that requires ESPN's entire commentary team to be on the qui vive. Navjot thus has less time to think of what his wife (also called Navjot!) might think of the next Sidhuism! Sunny and Boycs, Ravi and Harsha, Alan and Navjot -- of this sextet take your Indo-Anglian ESPN fill here and now. For we are not due to 'audio-visualise' this lot afresh until the end of the year. The England tour is a long one with 6 more ODIs and no fewer than 4 Test matches to go. After that, this ESPN-STAR team is due back on the Indian monitor only during our tour of New Zealand. That is in December-January 2002-03. Aptly when India would be launching into its final round of World Cup preparation via 7 sweetly timed ODIs vs New Zealand.

Which then are the two other channels teleset to fill the interregnum? Even as the fourth and final India-England Oval Test ends on the Monday of September 9, the ICC Champions Trophy begins in Sri Lanka on Thursday, September 12 -- divided into Pools 1, 2, 3 & 4. This then is the Mini World Cup. In terms of multi-nation visibility, the most important one-day tournament for India before the World Cup proper. A contest involving each one of the teams due to shape up during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa should be testing SONY to the SETMAX as a 'rebel' cricket channel. The ICC Trophy in Sri Lanka is thus a Mini World Cup in which SONY takes over from STAR with a vengeance. As to what the SONY commentary team's composition here is going to be, your Greig guess is as good as mine! It is the spot SONY opportunity to create a crickety impact, seeing how the 2003 World Cup is already in this big-money channel's custody for keeps.

For their part, India get into the Mini World Cup act with a day-and-nighter at Colombo's Premadasa Stadium on the Saturday of September 14. That is the date on which India must not again be caught on the wrong foot by its 1999 World Cup Achilles' heel - Zimbabwe! After that, at the same Premadasa day-and-night, there is the SETMAX view to come of the India-England confrontation during the Sunday of September 22. Thus for a full 7 days (September 15-21) have India to keep their AXE powder dry. It is how India fare against Zimbabwe and England that is going to determine whether, as the winner of our Pool, we go into the Premadasa day-and-night semis. By then, having already extensively viewed Nasser's England in ODI action on ESPN, we viewers should be forming a fair TV estimate of the punch India are likely to pack into the real McCoy World Cup in South Africa.

Thus does Sri Lanka witness a Mini World Cup in which both SONY and India are on crucial visual trial. For as a follow-up to this Sri Lanka extravaganza come the 7 ODIs against the West Indies at home during the October-November fatal phase. Truly are India here back on home ground in the sense that (with its Hindi-English potion) it is DD we savour to Nine Network the 2 Tests and the 7 ODIs vs Carl Hooper's West Indies. How the DD spoken word is going to telematch the Nine Network visuals is better fantasised than described. Not a dull moment, not with the Sanjay Manjrekar-Maninder Singh duo on the dot-ball - to act as the DD foil to the Sharmas Unlimited: Charu, Yashpal, Chetan and Madan. The picture that Nine Network thus presents is going to be worth first a hear, only then a watch. From ESPN-STAR to SETMAX to DD is a deep screen freeze looking like casting a chill over 'Cricket, Live Cricket'.