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Beam block on sticky wicket

December 10 will go down in Indian sporting history as the day that saw Anil Kumble surpass Kapil Dev as the highest Indian Test wicket-taker, at Dhaka's Bangabandhu stadium.

More than half the cable and satellite homes in Calcutta, fed by Indian Cable Net and Manthan, missed the moment and more. They are caught in a dues dispute, robbing television sets for three weeks now of ESPN STAR Sports, the sports bouquet beaming the India-Bangladesh series.

ESPN STAR Sports claims Indian Cable Net (formerly RPG Netcom) owes it Rs 4.4 crore, the reason for the channels being switched off. Manthan then blocked the sports beam in a solidarity move, before ESPN STAR Sports switched off the multi-system operator (MSO), too.

Day Two of the Test, however, holds out promise of all-Calcutta cricket action, as Writers' Buildings has finally padded up. 'I am very hopeful of things being sorted out by Saturday,' principal secretary Arun Bhattacharya told Metro on Friday evening.

'There were meetings between both parties (ESPN STAR Sports and Indian Cable Net) and things should get settled. We, along with Calcutta Police, are keeping a watch on the situation,' he added.

Police could have a role to play if a Sachin or a Sourav gets going and viewer woe boils over. That is the cableman's scare for Saturday.

If industry estimates pegged the figure of cricketless screens at 60 per cent or more, ESPN STAR Sports said nearly 50 per cent viewers did manage to catch the action.

'We gave decoders to several operators in and around the city for direct feed,' said Sricharan Iyengar, vice-president, sales and marketing of ESPN STAR Sports.

Migration and piracy are the twin effects of the ESPN-STAR Sports blackout. Officials of both SitiCable and CableComm confirmed that a number of cable operators had switched over to their networks in the past few days, or were poised for a shift.

The first crackdown on illegal feed came late on Thursday, with the raid on a Baguiati master control room beaming the sports channels on the sly.

Despite government assurances, a proper resolution looks remote.

'We even asked Indian Cable Net to pay half the dues, so that some progress could be made, but they refused,' claimed Iyengar.

'We have told our operators that if they are comfortable with the terms ESPN STAR Sports is setting, they can move out,' said an Indian Cable Net official.

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