DUBAI // Legions of cricket fans are expected to take time off work, go home early or call in sick as the ICC Cricket World Cup draws to its closing stages.
Productivity is expected to be increasingly hit as "cricket fever" takes hold, with key fixtures falling on working days in advance of the final in Mumbai on April 2.
Many expatriates living in the UAE have already requested time off from work and booked plane tickets to attend matches in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
• School cricket in Sri Lanka is bigger than their World Cup team playing Australia
• Why cricket's grip is so strong in the subcontinent
• Points table
• New Zealand boost World Cup chances with clinical win over Zimbabwe
• West Indies make merry at World Cup as Bangladesh implode at home
A number of the India games fall on Sundays — a holiday in the subcontinent, but the start of the working week in the UAE.
"It is very unfortunate that these matches are scheduled on our working days," said Rajni Ravi, a senior finance manager with a real estate group. "We also tend to have people calling in sick on key match dates.
Ms Ravi, an Indian national based in Dubai, added: "I have been watching cricket all my life and the World Cup is very special.
"My daughter is equally passionate about cricket, and we are both travelling to Chennai to watch the match between India and the West Indies."
Seshadri Rangaswamy, another Indian resident of Dubai, has also booked a ticket to Chennai, his hometown, to cheer on team India in two weeks.
"I rescheduled an official trip to be at this match," he said. "My interest stems from the fact that India has a really good shot at the World Cup this time."
Fuelling the call to down tools, an Indian radio station has promised to call workers' bosses live on air, to convince them before thousands of listeners that they should give their employees the day off.
Last Sunday, City 101.6 took three requests to call company bosses to persuade them to give their employees the day off to watch the India-England match.
"We figured a whole lot of people are going to miss the match, and we know how passionate Indians are about cricket," said Malavika, one of the hosts of the morning show.
"We begged and pleaded with them to give the day off, promising to play their favourite songs, and they eventually agreed," she said.
After being inundated with requests, the station now plans to repeat these calls on key match days.
When not taking the entire day off, some fans tend to sign off early. "I finish work by afternoon and am lucky to be back home for most of the match," said Mohammed Rizvi, a Sri Lankan engineer based in Dubai.
"But since they are day-night matches, staff of many companies tend to leave early. At least half the working day is lost to cricket."
He said he was flying to Colombo to watch Sri Lanka play next week, and plans to be at the finals in India.
Rahim Shaheed, a Pakistani national who works with a construction firm, leaves work early to catch the second half of matches with friends. "We have many Asians at work and the office attendance is already thin on important match days," he said.
Many fans from western nations say they will wait for the semi-finals before abandoning work.
"We are big cricket lovers in South Africa and people there leave work early on match days," said Andrew Neill, 35, a native of Johannesburg who plans to fly to India if his team makes it to the semi-final stage.
It is now commonplace for office workers to have cricketing websites open at their desktops to keep track of the scores.
The internet has been New Zealander Craig McDonald's link with the World Cup so far.
"I keep most of the games going and look at them during the day," said food supply company the team manager, who has played senior level club cricket in New Zealand. "There is a lot of excitement among the staff because we have many Asians, Brits and South Africans. The World Cup is what people are talking about in the hallways."
A number of construction companies are also enabling workers to follow matches in their rooms.
"We have existing dish facilities in our labour camps and workers have access to some channels", said Ahmed Kamil, an HR manager at ETA Ascon, a construction firm.
"We are now trying to find a vendor who can telecast cricket for the next two months."
One Indian association even plans to hand out cricketing kit to labourers. The UAE-based All Kerala Colleges Alumni Forum will give out bats, balls, stumps and pads to at least five labour camps.
"We are currently having a series of matches for our association member colleges. At the end of this series in March, we will be handing out cricketing gear," said Mr Shaukhat Ali, general secretary of the organisation.
Mr Ali said the association's yearly cricket series in Umm al Qaiwain was seeing a large turnout, and spoke of the "cricket fever" gripping fans since the World Cup began.
The tournament, which began two weeks ago, features the world's top 14 teams and takes place over 43 days.