'Indian Idol' with a cricketing spin

MUMBAI: This would be right up Sony Entertainment Television India's street, more so considering the fact that reality television and cricket are such key programming ingredients for the network. The cricket board today announced a reality TV show 'Cricket Star India' that purportedly aims to find the best young cricketer in the country.

The show, on the lines of 'Indian Idol', is being launched by UK-based firm Investors in Cricket (IIC) in association with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

Both organisations are in final negotiations with two television partners and a final decision is expected in July. One of the partners will screen the cricket matches, while the other will screen the tests and selection process. In addition, IIC has signed up a leading reality TV production house in India and has agreements with a number of high profile corporate sponsors, according to an official release.

Cricket Star India is the first programme in a 5-year international roll out, with Cricket Star UK already slated for Summer 2007. The winner of the first series, Cricket Star India, will earn a place at the Indian national trials, a year's expenses paid contract with Leicestershire County Cricket Club (one of 18 professional first class teams in the UK).

The initiative will kick off in August, when young cricketers in India can apply on-line and by post. A nationwide application and screening process will lead to a shortlist of talented candidates being invited to attend auditions in one of several regional centres under the auspices of local cricket boards.

There they will be assessed by celebrity cricket judges, including national selectors, and BCCI technical and cricket staff, who will select the final group to attend the Cricket Star Academy, the release adds.

The Cricket Star Academy begins in November, where the successful finalists will spend up to 10 weeks. The students' progress will be tested each week through televised cricket matches against, variously, state XIs, the Indian Under-19 XI ,and celebrity XIs which will include some of the game's leading names and many current Indian stars.

Apart from the cricketing abilities, the coverage promises to uncover the candidates' human sides, portraying life at the academy, the interaction between the hopefuls, and insights into their passion for the game. The final selection will be informed by millions of television viewers voting by phone, online or by text, states the release.

The anouncement of the launch was made in New Delhi today and was not without some controversy. Press trust of India quotes Cricket Star CEO Fraser Castellino as saying the programme would serve as a selection trial for the board and the winner would be fast-tracked into the national side. However, when it was pointed out to him that there had never been trials to pick the Indian team per se as players were picked on the basis of their performances in domestic tournaments, Castellino made a volte face. "We will use the board's facilities and draw on the coaching staff but there is no guarantee of selection into the state or national team," PTI quoted Castellino as saying.

The release quotes BCCI V-P and marketing committee chief Lalit Modi as saying, "Cricket Star is a ground-breaking TV format we have developed with Investors in Cricket that will showcase the best of India's unsung cricketing talent, and compliment the BCCI's growing portfolio of media properties. This exciting project supports our aim of unearthing and developing talent to produce the future stars of the game." Modi was not present at the press conference though

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