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February 12, 2000


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A sight for sore eyes

Armchair Expert

Spot poll: Which country do you enjoy watching cricket most on TV?

You can choose from Australia, Australia, Australia and Australia.

Followers of India's favorite pastime (even ahead of politics and religion), will be the first to agree that there's nothing like wasting hours and hours of one's time watching grown men in colored clothing chase a white ball. At least fifteen times. From every possible, and some impossible, angle. (Unless, of course, you have a black and white TV. But, thanks to Channel 9, you'll still get the best view.) And, for better or for worse, by the end of a series brought to you by Channel 9, everyone will have a point of view on everything. And be well on their way to becoming yet another Armchair Expert. (Do we need another one? Do we need this one?) Because watching Channel 9 is like getting an education in the finer points of the game. Not to mention, areas like management, marketing and common sense.

Why? Simple answer. Channel 9. Australian grounds. Outlandish hats. Yobbos and other equally boisterous types. The thirty-five camera angles. (Or is it forty?) And, not to forget, the pretty women. And the great cricket. And -- in short, full paisa vasool. Or as one would announce in 'advertese,' for true value, it has to be Channel 9! Everyday. Working day or otherwise. Same odd time in the wee hours of the morning. The magic of great cricket. Made even more magical by your favorite cricket channel. Channel 9. That's all for now folks. And don't touch that dial. (Or go to another page.) Because this is Channel 9. Enjoy.' (Even the Indian team looks better on Channel 9.)

Enjoy it all and, above all, enjoy the great Australian fielding. Which, thanks to a combination of home turf - and what a turf - adrenaline and some of the most colorful crowds in world cricket, makes their out-cricket a sheer treat for sore eyes. No wonder everyone wants to be an armchair expert. Channel 9 won't let you take your eyes off the TV set. And their panel of 'real experts' on the commentary panel will help you pick up the finer points of the game. (So you don't have to ever settle for the likes of Messrs. Puri, Doshi and Chaturvedi.)

The first time I watched Channel 9 was when Gavaskar's great team of 1987 swept all Down Under. A team nothing like the team of today. Charismatic. Happy. Enthusiastic. Positive. Competitive. Consistent. And a team. A team the fans loved. A team Channel 9 loved. A team the marketing men loved. And a team Indian viewers loved getting up to at any unearthly hour in the morning. By far, one of the most popular teams of all time. And thanks to all those wonderful men from Channel 9 and their magnificent machines, their performances will always remain etched in my mind. There was no team like that. There was no series like that. And the excellent coverage had more than a bit to do with it.

What's better, things have only gotten -- well, better. No, not with the Indian team. (Since that memorable summer of '87, the Indian team has only gone down under. And the pun is every bit intended as bitter.) But, I vowed I wouldn't crib anymore about the Indian cricket team. So I'll just -- what the heck! Why not? How could they do this to -- control, control. Think about nicer things. There must be something that brings up better memories. (Think. Think...) Yes. The Snickometer. (Snickometer? Yeh, snickometer kya hai? ad slogan for it. sung to the tune of ILU, ILU.)

If there's one enduring technological memory of the series gone by, as with every other series that has preceded this one, it's the 'vertical cardiogram.' A technological marvel that is set to become the next big umpiring nightmare. Or 'viewer boon.' Depending how you look at it. And since I'm the customer - the King, and not an umpire, I'm all for the Snickometer. And other such toys that allow those who love pontificating from the comfort of their living rooms on the state of the game, to do just that. Thanks to the multiple skills of the magic eye, the spincam, the stumpcam, the verticalcam, the leftcam, the 35thcam, the Snickometer and Richie Benaud. (Only on Channel 9.)

Every move the batsman made. Every twitch of his eyebrow. Every exchange of words. (Either lip-read. Or sometimes (yipee!) heard.) I want it all. And marketing will give it to me. They better give it me. After all, the consumer is the king. My moolah speaks. And it says "give me more!" If last years' innovation was the Spincam, this year's is the snickometer. And you can be sure they'll be back next year with yet another innovation.

That's how pros run a business. That's how you get the crowds in. That's how you improve grounds. That's how you encourage better cricket. That's how you get youngsters interested in the game. That's how you foster a 'culture of efficiency in cricket. And along the way, you make it fun for everyone who's part of it. Cricket wins and, this is equally important, the consumer wins. You keep the consumer happy. He gives you money. You pump it back into the game. Quality improves. The customer gets more entertainment. He gives more money. You put it back again. And again. And again. Cricket makes the consumer happy. The consumer, in turn, encourages better cricket. It doesn't matter what comes first. Or which way it works. The point is, it works. Surprise, surprise! Marketing plays a crucial role in producing quality cricket. Channel 9 delivers quality telecasts. More people tune in. More sponsors come on board. More money comes in. And more gets pumped back into the game! Ah, now we know why Indian cricket is in the dumps.

Out here, we do things a bit differently. The money comes in and disappears. Cricket develops despite the administrators trying their best to 'unprofessionalize.' And while the rest of the world is reaping the benefits of good management and marketing in cricket, we see apathy. We don't see more grounds. We don't see greener outfields. We don't see better pitches. We don't see decent facilities for spectators. We don't see much evidence of the powers' that be doing anything to foster a truly professional cricket set-up. Instead, we see bungling. And more bungling. And us falling further and further behind the game Down Under. (If not, the rest of the world.)

For the Aussies, professional sport is exactly what it says it is. Professional sport. Not a pastime. Not an easier way to make money. Not the shortest route to getting on TV. People make a living out of it. McGrath is as much a professional as a banker or an accountant or a doctor is. (Just a lot fitter, stronger, famous and infamous.) And if any further proof of their professional approach to the game is required, they don't pick 'names' as coaches. They pick people. The right people. People with skills specific to the job. And not just famous ex-cricketers. (Because cricketers, supposedly, respect only those who've played the game. Not true. Ask the Australians. Ask John Buchanan!)

They give it to people who know a thing or two about people management. About managing egos. People who understand the value of being good communicators. And realize that cricket today is as much about cricket as it is about good management. Fact of the matter is, cricket in Australia can be likened to a network of companies with similar synergies operating under the banner of 'cricketainment.' And when you start using words like advertising, marketing, banner, brands, innovation, professional and synergies (!), you know cricket has moved on and becoming something else. Something that's played as much, if not more, between the ears as on the field.

The Australian cricketers know they'll keep their 'jobs' only so long as they perform. The sponsors fork out the greenbacks only if the team performs. The commentators keep their jobs only if they perform! Nobody stays unless they perform. As a result, everyone -- say it with me -- PERFORMS. They must. They've got to do their job. Their life and livelihood depends on it. And the team's got to make it happen. (Just like it is with most professionals.)

It's not just the designer grounds or the huge electronic scoreboard or the camera angles or even just the cricket or the women. It's everything. The Total Package. Fully loaded. Stacked from head to toe. Like the women. (I must be compulsive.) Quite appropriately enough, watching cricket in Australia is like saying 'yes' to that advertising slogan which cheerfully announces -- 'Everybody's invited!' ("Thank you, I'd love to.")

That's cricket is in Australia for you. (Okay, for me.) An invitation to be part of a celebration. Celebrating excellence in all departments of the game. Both on, and off the field. An invitation that says "Welcome to Australia. Where marketing meets cricket." I call it Cricketainment - Australian for cricket.

Armchair Expert

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