Adverts will sweeten broadcast threat

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The Independent Online

A note of calm descended on world cricket yesterday after panic had threatened to engulf it. But the worry that at least two countries are facing ruin has not yet been dispelled.

India's cricketers might have been toiling in one Pakistani city but their dominant position in the world game had already been reinforced in another part of the country. The total of 679 for 7 they conceded in Lahore, Pakistan's third highest, was still small fry compared with what took place in Karachi two days earlier.

There, at only five days' formal notice, the chairmen of all 10 leading cricket boards gathered to discuss the issue of television rights in India. After it, the International Cricket Council president, Ehsan Mani, said with tangible relief: "It has been very helpful. We now have a much better understanding."

The session was called partly out of the need to explain, partly out of fear that millions of dollars were about to drain out of the game. India's government were the cause after their edict that all major sports events involving Indian teams, home or away, had to be shown on the state tele-vision network, Doordarshan.

This could have a damaging effect on the hugely competitive cable and satellite network broadcasters in the subcontinent. The concern was that they would not bid so heavily for rights if they had to share them.

India attract a huge television audience, and the decree meant that foreign boards selling the right to home series against India would be severely affected. West Indies, New Zealand, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe would be especially vulnerable, but richer countries such as England, who have already sold their foreign TV rights for India's next visit to this country, would also be affected.

The meeting demonstrated how much of the game's revenue is dependent on the overwhelming passion for the game in India. Unarguably, the most powerful individual in attendance was Sharad Pawar, who is both president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the agriculture minister. India are responsible for generating more than three quarters of the ICC income.

But Andrew Wildblood, a senior vice-president with TWI, the television arm of IMG, which is responsible for marketing and distributing thousands of hours of television, was sanguine about the effects. "You have to adopt a pragmatic stance and remember that markets are always shifting," he said. "Cricket will remain a must-have content for cable and satellite broadcasters in India and it will remain a competitive place. If you don't have cricket as a cable sports broadcaster in India, you may as well pack up and go home.

"One argument is that the increased audience brought by the feed being available will enhance the value of advertising, which may go all the way to making up the loss of subscription revenues. It's arguable that it can be no bad thing from a commercial point of view for the audience to double."

It is important to stay composed. The next big thing is that the BCCI are examining closely forming their own TV station.

First Test: India ravaged by Afridi and Akmal's storm

Shahid Afridi and Kamran Akmal hit whirlwind centuries yesterday to enable Pakistan to declare on a massive 679 for 7 on the second day of the First Test against India at Lahore.

When bad light stopped play 19 overs early, India were 65 for 0 in reply, with Virender Sehwag unbeaten on 36.

Afridi and Akmal savaged the Indian bowlers before a crowd of 12,000 after Pakistan resumed on 485 for 5 after lunch, scoring 170 runs in 129 balls for the sixth wicket. A total of 194 runs were scored in just 22.3 overs in the session as Afridi raced to his fourth Test hundred from 78 balls and wicketkeeper Akmal reached his third from 81 balls.

Their hundreds came after Younis Khan (199) and Mohammad Yousuf (173) had put on 319 runs for the third wicket, and the pair required just 9.3 overs to propel Pakistan from 500 to 600. Afridi was in a menacing mood, racing to his second 50 in just 23 balls which included four consecutive sixes off the unfortunate off-spinner Harbhajan Singh. He was finally dismissed caught at long-on by Harbhajan off Ajit Agarkar for 103 from 80 balls with seven fours and seven sixes. "That's how I bat, I always go with a positive frame of mind," Afridi said. "It's a totally dead wicket and there is nothing in it for the bowlers."

Akmal remained undefeated on 102 after an 81-ball innings that was laced with 11 fours and two sixes. "I was totally shocked when I was told after the innings that I took only 81 balls," he said. Younis fell one run short of his double hundred just before lunch when he played Anil Kumble to mid-on and set off for a single but was sent back by Afridi and beaten by Harbhajan's throw. He became only the seventh batsman and second Pakistani in Test history to be dismissed for 199.

Younis was the third wicket to fall in the session after Kumble provided some respite to his team by picking up the wickets of Yousuf and captain Inzamam-ul-Haq in the space of one run.