The arrival of Indian Premier League
In India, 'cricket is religion' was often considered blasphemous. The new generation was unlike their forefathers. They had grown on a steady dose of European football, formula 1 racing and even basketball. To win their share of attention, cricket was competing not only with these sports but also video games and the internet. Patience and nostalgia, emotions associated with Test cricket and increasingly even with one - day cricket, was not what this generation was all about. Slowly yet steadily, cricket has become an over-hyped brand.
The dramatic arrival of T20 cricket, first in England, then at the World T20 but tellingly so, at the IPL signalled an innovation that was perfect for cricket, almost like a much-needed round of blood transfusion.
T20 emerged out of a customer need identifed through market research and it originated, interestingly, in England, a bastion of orthodoxy and the home of Test cricket. T20 offered a quick, happy single evening format that people could watch after they were home from work. It seems a no - brainer now but it was revolutionary when it was first proposed because the shortest form of the game then was 50 overs, and sometimes 40 overs in England. Much like the first World Cup in 1975, the World T20 in South Africa in 2007 was a travel in the unknown.
We did not know it then but when India won it, beating Pakistan in a marketer's dream final, it was to be one of the biggest turning points in cricket, as we know it.
Test cricket, this generation's grand allowance to an earlier generation to indulge itself, has already seen viewership in some countries and the 50-over game had just come out of one of the most dreary World Cups ever in 2007. People wanted to watch the top and tail and let go of the middle overs, rather appropriately referring to them as 'non-aggression pact' between bowler and batsman. In effect, T20 lopped off the middle and gave the spectator the top and tail of a limited overs game. And as the league spread all around the world, it did something else.
In keeping with what the generation was starting to do with everything else, it offered an 'experience and discard' model of watching sport. You no longer needed to remember what happened at Chepauk in 1974 - 75, or Leeds in 2002 or Mumbai in 2004. No. You enjoyed the game as it happened, you sat on the edge of your seat, surfaced the unpredictability and moved on.
The real face of disruption though, was to be seen, little over six months later. Actually a bit earlier, when the greatest players in the world were up in the auction and industrialists sat by a table to bid for them. Traditionalists and the outrage, even in a lesser social media era, was substantial. 'Cricketers are being paraded and sold like cattle' was something we heard very often. It was no longer a panel of former cricketers picking the current ones. And so, as you would imagine, there was a bit of box-office involved.
A phenomenon, already prevalent in other evolved leagues in the world that came to India. "Can you score runs and take wickets?" was a valid question but so was "Can you attract people to stadiums? Or can you attend sponsor functions so they can associate with my team?" In the years to come, fine players like Yuvraj Singh's connect with audiences would play as big a role as his cricket, in the massive valuations he ordered. Like with all disruption, the arrival of T20 and its flagbearer, the IPL, left a generation of people uncertain how to tackle the new beast.
England sneered at the IPL, looked upon it as the worst thing to happen to the game. England now is making valiant attempts to have its own version of the IPL. It required a change of guard in management to see the reality that the younger players saw but those that controlled them were blind to.
The T20 revolution, and the growth of the IPL, was the outcome therefore, of innovation that emerged from challenging the givens and keeping an open mind to all the possibilities that such a challenge could throw.
Published 22 Oct 2018, 22:48 IST