If there is one industry where India calls the shots in the world today, it is without doubt the cricketing industry. And I am not talking about the performance of Indian cricket team or its dominance in world cricket. This reference is to the cash rich Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
The ‘Gentleman’s Game’ originated in the British Isles, and for years, the whites ruled world cricket and its administration. However, over the past decade or so, the reins of power have shifted to the east and the BCCI has been dominating the game’s international governing body – ICC (International Cricket Council). Given the sheer amount of cricket followers in the Indian subcontinent, the reason for this dominance is fairly obvious. However, this fan following has gone down in the recent past. India is by far cricket’s biggest market and a change in the behaviour of your primary market is a serious cause of concern for any marketer.
Rewind your memory to the scene of Tendulkar smashing Warne all over the park in Mumbai during Australia’s tour match in 1998. These memories are still fresh in the minds of any Indian cricket lover. For the benefit of others, this match was a tour game between Mumbai and Australia. An inspired Mumbai, led by Tendulkar’s first double hundred, defeated the Aussies convincingly, and this match pretty much set the tone for the rest of the tour which, of course, ended with the famous desert storm in Sharjah.
The fact that this was a tour match did not come in its way of getting the required media and public attention. Such was the fan following of the game in India during the late 90s and early part of the millennium that any match of remote importance was followed with keen interest. The critics would say that the coverage was due to the presence of a man called Sachin Tendulkar (which obviously cannot be denied, but I think there is something more to it). Compare this with the current India-Australia series and most of us would fail to recall any of the tour matches. Prima facie, this indicates that cricket’s following has been slowly but steadily going down in the India.
During the last decade or so, the India-Australia series has been billed as being next only to the Ashes or an Indo-Pakistan series in terms of popularity. There used to be some verbal warfare between the players of both the sides. and all this only added to the spice of the series. Sadly though, all this has been missing in the current series. One may argue that both the teams are in a transition phase and this is what has deterred them from making bold claims. While this might be one of the reasons, I think the problem here is more serious.
The prime reason attributed to the game’s decline has been its overdose, and the below lines emphasize this very well.
“Be it a Sunday or a Monday, Indians are playing a match every day.
Be it winning or losing, they are still playing T20, Tests and one day”
The advent of T20 cricket has to take much of the blame for this overkill. On one hand, there is no denying to the fact that T20 cricket and the leagues like the IPL (Indian Premier League) have been instrumental in bringing moolah to the game. But on the other hand, it has added to the number of matches played in a year. There is no doubt that the league was a success initially, but how long it can survive still needs to be seen. As per the latest TRPs, its popularity has been going down since its inception in 2008, which is a worrying sign for the organizers.
In my opinion, the reason for IPL’s declining popularity is that it has failed to keep a world-class standard of cricket, while the quality of football is seldom compromised in football leagues like the English Premier League (from where IPL has been adopted). In a bid to commercialize the game of cricket, its administrators have sadly tinkered with the game’s quality. Another reason for the declining popularity has been Indian team’s dismal performances in Test matches (which the romantics call as real cricket) over the past year or two.
Today, the scenario is such that the success or failure of cricket is synonymous with that of Indian cricket’s success or failure. I might be jumping gears in writing cricket’s obituary so soon. Things might change completely and cricket might return back to enjoy the front seat position in the minds of the Indians. Also, as I write this piece, the Indians, led by a career-defining knock by captain Dhoni, have defeated the Australians comprehensively in the Chennai test. So, all is not lost yet, and cricket might survive this tremor to continue to entertain us all in the years to come.
Having been a cricket follower for most of my life, I would be the last person who would want the game to die, but I am afraid that the signs are ominous.