NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The 13th edition of the 50-over World Cup got under way in Ahmedabad on Thursday heralding six weeks of high-octane action in a country madly in love with the game.
Cricket is considered a religion in India, which remains pretty much a one-sport nation despite the country’s improved performances in other sports.
The twice champions, who last won the title when they were hosts in 2011, are the financial engine of the game, wielding considerable clout within the world governing International Cricket Council (ICC).
India, led by Rohit Sharma, head into the tournament as the top-ranked one-day team and one of the tournament favourites, along with holders England and five-time winners Australia.
Cricketers in India enjoy rock-star status rivalled only by Bollywood actors, and earn the kind of money that remains a distant dream for most other sportspeople.
It also means they are under tremendous pressure to perform in big tournaments and that burden of expectation will only be heavier at their home World Cup.
Cricket is popular in every corner of the country, reflecting India’s genuine love for the game introduced by its former British rulers.
It is played in the mountains in Kashmir, the by-lanes in Kolkata, the slums in Mumbai and on the Marina beach in Chennai.
Several Indian cities have green parks where matches are played simultaneously – be it Azad Maidan in Mumbai or the ‘Maidan’ in Kolkata near Eden Gardens.
The franchise-based Indian Premier League has further helped the game deepen its roots in India and cricket’s position as the number one sport in the country looks safe in the near future.
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in Ahmedabad; editing by Ken Ferris)