India is today the commercial centre of gravity of cricket and accounts for close to 80% of the game’s revenue. Picture this—in 1986, just ahead of the 1987 World Cup, Reliance Industries paid $1 million for the title sponsorship of the tournament. Today, ICC gets between six and eight partners, each worth $8 million, accounting for over $60 million in revenue—for one tournament. Almost 75% of the game’s viewership comes from the subcontinent. Approximately Rs.9 out of every Rs.10 of cricket advertising globally is from marketers looking to tap India in some way. If the International Cricket Council (ICC) is the voice of cricket, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is now the invoice of cricket.
Everyone agrees that ODI, Twenty20 & IPL have been stupendously popular . But purists complain that they just aren’t cricket anymore. This argument misses the central point: ODI & T20 are a huge hit precisely because they aren’t cricket. Invented in 18th century England, cricket has long been in danger of becoming obsolete – or, at best, a tribal curiosity of interest only to social anthropologists and other academics – in a society increasingly accustomed to an accelerated pace in sport and other forms of entertainment. By taking the cricket out of cricket, Twenty20 became compellingly telegenic, with plenty of action both on the field as well as on the sidelines, from American-style cheerleaders to Mandira Bedi’s decolletage.
One fact is indisputable. The changes in format and to an extent the underprepared home pitches for tests, have changed the financial structure of cricket into a major international sporting tournament, that will in time compete with football. And it has been made very very entertaining. The game also provided us with inspirational icons like Sachin, Dhoni and Virat. In India where we are devoid of talent that is real; reverential and respectful of other and where political discourse have touched a new low, cricket provides the antidote and a perfect one at that by virtue of playing more matches at home with our demographic dividend.
Visionaries like Sharad, Jagguda, Arunji, Shuklaji, Lalit crafted this carefully over the decades aided by media, scores of officials and state boards. They made us conveniently forget that there are icons across sports and that between 1928 and 1956, India’s hockey team won six consecutive Olympic gold medals, a domination Indian cricketers have never threatened to rival. Despite having more cricketers than the rest of the world put together, India has only fairly recently become consistently competitive at cricket. But we always excel when we have less competition. But, if you are only good at one sport as a country of a billion people, you tend to be protective of it.
Any business has its share of scandals. Cricket business got haunted by the spectre of corruption and match fixing.Three players, including Sree Sreesanth, were arrested by the Mumbai police for alleged spot fixing. We did have Azhar, Manoj, Ajay and a few more who were accused. Pakistan’s spot-fixing scandal of 2010 involved members of the national cricket team who were convicted of taking bribes from a bookmaker to deliberately play badly at certain points in a Test match. Every bookmaker’s backing India, every gambler. So is the media, sponsored by countless brands. Our cricket team is all about money, glamour, stardom– the usual suspects. Every halfwit on the road is rooting for it even if he can’t differentiate a leg bye from a leg before. We have made a business out of wearing patriotism on your sleeve . Our cricket administrators are more savvy than the CEO of a MNC, in filling up stadiums with filthy toilets at 40 degree centigrade.
And after scandals and consequent corruption, came the murders to silence the trail of money. Cronje’s plane crash was mysterious. We are still troubled by Bob Woolmer’s death. Times Now had a headline which was not repeated : Bob Woolmer Murdered. In 2010, Sunanda Pushkar had relinquished her estimated Rs. 70 cr stake in IPL when allegations of corruption against Tharoor had caused a furore. She was used as a front. Tharoor resigned and in a few years Sunanda was found dead at Leela. The autopsy and forensics of Sunanda’s body and room have probably entered guinness book of world records of being the longest examination in history of criminology. Am sure there will be more to follow.
But who cares ? Rahul Dravid promotes dandruff shampoos. Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri earn more money today, post retirement from cricket commentary than they have ever earned from playing the game. Cricket is now a instant broadband sport that guarantees instant, broadband gratification. The next thing would be to take the actual players (susceptible to physical injury, loss of form, match-fixing, etc) and replace them with automatons, or robots. Or, better still, with computer-generated virtual players. E-cricket, Matrix- style, anyone? And let Don Bradman turn over in the Ashes. When greed will turn deadlier.