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|April 20, 2000||
It's just not cricketAvinash Subramanium
It used to be. But now, it's all about money. Honey. (As one trying-so-hard-to-be-clever ad-line put it.) Yes, I know people never tire of saying how much the game is worshipped in these parts of the world. That nothing rivals the enthusiasm of the cricket fanatics here. How the fans out here are so much more in love with the game. (Which I sometimes wish not, considering the kind of revelations we've been hit with in the recent weeks.) Tony believes the capital of world cricket is in India. And a million others repeat ad nauseum that cricket is nothing less than a religion. (Now, if only some of the players respected the game for what it has given them.)
Unfortunately, the only people benefiting from this passion/craze/madness in these parts seem to be the people making money out of it: read, the administrators, the boards, the men from marketing and of course the players. (Dishonest or otherwise.) Give or take a couple of venues, few of the facilities have improved much. (Even the ones that have, more often than not, are connected to people in high places. Example, Mohali.) The scheduling of matches is still haphazard and muddled. And, of course, the nurseries of cricket are as badly organised and stocked as ever. (Not surprising, considering both the players and administrators seem more interested in other pursuits.) Well okay, Sharjah has come a long way from the days of matting wickets and temporary stands. The credit for which must go to the tireless efforts of Asif Iqbal, Abdul Rehman Bukhatir and petro-dollars. But the smell of money and greed is unmistakable. (Even more so now.)
For me, some of the less endearing images from the season just concluded had little to do with cricket. They were about the long walk back to the pavilion being interrupted by an idiotic ad offering alternative careers. Or a beautifully captured replay of a dismissal being interrupted by an advertiser urging me to 'bold ho jaoo!' Or Ian Chappell and Barry Richards trying to conduct an analysis between 'Shastriji' urging us to go buy a particular brand of tyre. (What is it about tyre companies that makes them turn to cricket stars? Maybe it has to do with the cars some of the stars are so conveniently 'gifted.') Sometimes it got so bad it looked like I was watching a telecast of ads interrupted by the cricket! Even the viewing area had my eyeballs jostling with the ads to watch the cricket. And that's -- well, just not cricket.
And as if it isn't bad enough that the players today end up looking like billboards - what with all kinds of companies making their presence felt on various parts of their anatomy, the kit, every inch of available white space - they've even got to the umpires. For instance, the series in India had the ridiculous spectacle of the men in white coats showing off patches of colour placed on them by a famous biscuit company. Come on fellows, there has to be a limit. Sure, go ahead and put it up next to the red lights, next to the green lights, in the hands of the spectators, up there in the sky, above the ground, between overs, anywhere -- but please leave the umpires out of this. (God knows you won't leave the players.) Only because it looks plain ridiculous.
Make no mistake, I'm no traditionalist. I'm all for innovation and anything that takes the game away from the way the stuffed shirts in high places would like it to be. I'm all for, as the head of a sports entertainment company would put it, 'smash-mouth cricket.' But not this! What's worse, in the true traditions of marketing, they have to go and make them things - the ads - as colourful and as obvious as possible. I can well imagine someone in the marketing department saying -- increase the size of the logo. I can't see it. People won't be able to see it. I'm paying good money for it. So what if it looks like an eyesore. I'm making it possible. (I should know. I used to be at the receiving end of such conversations.) The point is, you've got to find a balance between raking in the moolah and keeping it good for the game.
And few countries do it better than Australia. (Or, to a slightly lesser extent New Zealand.) They know revenue has to be generated. They know it's about attracting crowds. They know money is important. But they also realise the game is paramount. I hope. (One never knows nowadays.) Perhaps it might have something to do with the sport not being as pampered as it is in these parts. Maybe that's what makes them work that much harder to channelize the money back into the game. And not just into their pockets and those of certain unscrupulous players whose names we hope to see some day soon. (I hope. Again.)
Mail your response to Avinash Subramanium
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