Financial workers in Mumbai are stopping work early this afternoon as traders join what may be a record Indian television audience for the nation’s cricket World Cup semi-final against Pakistan.
Standard Chartered Plc (STAN), Bharti Axa General Insurance and Pramerica Asset Managers Pvt. are among companies that allowed staff in India’s financial capital to watch the event that began 2.30 p.m. local time in the northern state of Punjab. In Pakistan, the Karachi Stock Exchange closed 90 minutes early and government workers were given the afternoon off.
“The market has virtually gone to sleep at the moment, all eyes are on the TV screens,” said Sandeep Bagla, senior vice president in charge of rates trading at ICICI Primary Dealership, who is watching the match in his office. “It has been a very long time since I saw markets this quiet.”
At the stadium about 130 miles from the border with Pakistan, Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani joined billionaires Mukesh Ambani and Sajjan Jindal to witness the match between the nuclear-armed neighbors, the first on Indian soil since the 2008 attack by Pakistani terrorists in Mumbai. Trading volume on Asia’s fourth-biggest stock market may drop as much as 20 percent, said D.K. Aggarwal, chairman of New Delhi-based SMC Wealth Management Services Ltd.
In Pakistan, the volume is likely to be as much as 30 percent below average, said Mohammed Sohail, chief executive officer of Topline Securities Ltd. in Karachi. An estimated 80 million viewers will watch the game, pushing advertising rates to a record, according to Mumbai-based Audience Measurement & Analytics Ltd.
“This is the mother of all encounters,” said Ipshita Saha, a 28-year-old marketing professional at Dish TV India Ltd. in Gurgaon, near New Delhi. “With India now close to winning the Cup, no one wants to miss it.”
Tariffs for 10-second commercials have risen more than fourfold to 1.8 million rupees ($40,194), from 400,000 rupees at the start of the tournament on Feb. 19, the Economic Times reported March 28, citing agencies handling enquiries for advertisers.
Standard Chartered, the U.K. bank that earns most of its earnings from Asia, put up screens to show the match in its cafeterias in Mumbai. SMC Wealth Management is showing the game on 15 televisions on its trading floor and letting staff leave when the markets close, Aggarwal said.
Reliance Infrastructure Ltd., controlled by billionaire Anil Ambani, has declared a holiday for its staff, while his brother Mukesh’s Reliance Industries Ltd. has awarded employees a half-day off to “cheer the Indian team to victory,” according to a company e-mail.
Coca-Cola Co.’s India unit and Mandhana Industries Ltd. (MNDN), an Indian maker of apparels with 5,000 employees in Mumbai and Bangalore, will give workers the option of taking the afternoon off. Companies such as Mumbai-based brokerage LKP Securities Ltd. and Castrol India Ltd. (CSTRL) will let staff come dressed in blue clothes, the color of the Indian team jersey.
“This is the biggest sporting rivalry in Asia if not the world,” said Anil Nandas, a New Delhi-based property developer, who was born three years after Pakistan was carved out of India in 1947, generating more than six decades of mutual hostility. “This is the match that everyone in both countries has been hoping for and losing doesn’t bear thinking about.”
The game follows two days of talks that ended yesterday between the interior secretaries of the two countries in New Delhi, where they agreed on exchange visits by teams leading the terror-attack probe. The two sides also vowed to hold biannual security talks to repair relations still strained 28 months after 10 Pakistani militants armed with assault weapons and grenades killed 166 people in a 72-hour siege of Mumbai.
Muslim Pakistan and predominantly Hindu India have fought three wars, two of them over their conflicting claims over the territory of Kashmir, since the two nations were created at independence from Britain in 1947. India, which blames Pakistan- based Lashkar-e-Taiba for the Mumbai attack, has accused its neighbor of failing to prosecute those who planned the carnage.
The attack shattered a dialogue that over five years had increased cross-border trade and strengthened transport and cultural links. Gilani this week accepted Singh’s invitation to attend the match in the latest round of diplomacy. Improved ties are central to U.S.-led efforts to fight Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in Afghanistan, where India and Pakistan compete for influence.
The meeting between the two leaders, the first in a year, is unlikely to yield any major peace announcements, according to Kalim Bahadur, a former professor of South Asian Studies at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“This has given both leaders an opportunity to restart the dialogue without being seen to surrender,” said Bahadur. “It will improve the atmosphere but I wouldn’t expect the leaders to try to tackle any of the big issues. This is just a first of many steps.”
Cricket is the most popular sport in India and Pakistan and over the last fifty years the game and politics have become intertwined. While the sport has been a tool of diplomacy, at other times, it has inflamed tensions.
Pakistani fans threw stones at Indian players during a match in Karachi in 1989 and a supporter went on the pitch ripping the shirt of the Indian captain. In 2000, Hindu nationalists dug up the cricket pitch in New Delhi to protest against the Pakistani team’s visit.
“This is different from the U.S. Super Bowl -- this match has politics, nationalism and the history of the partition,” said Alam Srinivas, one of the authors of the book “IPL Cricket & Commerce: An Inside Story.” “When India and Pakistan play a cricket match, both countries are completely transfixed. The streets will be empty when the game is on.”
The winner of today’s encounter will play Sri Lanka in the final in Mumbai on April 2.