People all across India are calling into work to report that they just can't make it in. In one case, only three of 75 staff members turned up to work recently. No, it's not a protest, or a bug going around.
There have simply been more pressing issues in the subcontinent over the past couple of weeks: Cricket. And things are about to heat up.
Wednesday is the day that India and Pakistan face off in the cricket world cup semifinal. If the fact that so many people mysteriously called in "sick" at the same time as the quarterfinal between India and Australia last week is any indicator, expect tumbleweeds at the offices here Wednesday.
This isn't just big, it's a must-see event – even for those who don't watch cricket (though, good luck finding one of those).
For the two neighbors with an often-antagonistic relationship, it's a chance for some sporting brinkmanship, and excitement on both sides of the border is at fever pitch. For India, it could well be the day when roughly 1 billion people play hooky.
In fact, many workplaces have ceded to employee pleas and announced a half-day, to allow people to rush home or to any restaurant showing the match on a big screen. Financial markets will remain open, but be prepared for sluggish trade after the match begins at 2.30 p.m. local time (10 a.m. GMT).
In New Delhi, even cultural events are bowing before the sporting juggernaut: Organizers of the week’s top book launch at the British Council Wednesday evening insist there will be a big screen in the lobby so attendees can duck out between readings to check the score.
India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is not wasting the opportunity for some cricket diplomacy. He’s invited his Pakistani counterpart Yousef Raza Gilani to watch the match alongside him at the cricket stadium in Mohali, in the northern state of Punjab.
The combination of their presence, the competitive nature of the match, and the general frenzy surrounding a semifinal has television executives rubbing their hands. They anticipate record audiences of between 600 million and 800 million Indians to be glued to their television sets for the game.