By Srinivasan Narayanan
This was no India-Pakistan cricket series; nor the Ashes contest; nor the final of a World Cup; nor the clash between the two top-ranked cricket teams. Yet it was telecast live. And I was watching it on a Sunday afternoon. This was IPL4 Player Auction and it was telecast live!
Watching IPL or any other brand of T20 is not my idea of watching cricket. As a hard core Test cricket fan, I do not consider T20 as a game of cricket at all.
Yet I followed the auction because under way was a fundamental shift in cricket telecasts. What was on view was not the game, not the controversies, not the celebrities or stars hawking something. Someone out there had thought that the process of bidding for players by the 10 franchisees vying with each other to put together a winning team within the nine million dollar budget (seven million for Rajasthan Royals) will make for interesting viewing.
It is a no brainer in Indian cricket that cricket stars will make for compelling viewing on the idiot box. Next to film-based programming and some mega serials, international cricket action involving Indian cricketers has always attracted eye balls. For, we are a nation of cricket devotees. Hence, it’s only natural that we produced a cricketing god – Sachin Tendulkar.
Yet the live telecast of the auction perhaps breaks new ground. The cricketers are not on view, but here we had enough commercial sponsors to take a chance on the presumption that just the cricketers name will sell. We need to wait sometime before we know what the TRPs were, but definitely the PROCESS of squad formation was put on show. In a way, the game players play has been replaced by the games ‘selectors’ play.
Putting on show the process has given the viewer a ringside view of how the team bosses minds work and the kind of preparation they have made. It was clear that most of them had decided not to go for West Indian players as the West Indies is mostly engaged during the IPL season. True, many of them have not signed a contract with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) just to be available for the IPL season. Yet the IPL teams chose to ignore even big tickets like Chris Gayle.
They chose to ignore an icon like Sourav Ganguly, raising a furore. But the thought process of the teams was very clear: If you are not performing at the expected levels, we will not pick you at all. Experts like Arun Lal and Ayaz Memon failed to see this coming and were instead devastated by the cold shouldering. What these commentators and the irate cricket fans (read Ganguly fans) missed was that the team bosses who were coughing up the money close to $90 million (Rs 400 crores approx.) were looking at hard numbers. Sentiment, reputation, past records and star value did not seem to matter.
But doesn’t that come with the territory? IPL, or the larger T20, is just a money-spinning proposition and anyone decrying the loss of traditional cricket sentiments like awe and gratitude for former and current players is barking up the wrong tree.
Let me stop digressing. The live telecast caught me by surprise. That’s no big deal. Even the channel did not seem to be well equipped to make it an exciting experience. They had just a few screens of data that was hardly helpful for the viewer to understand quickly what each team was still lacking and seeking. Something akin to the asking rate, overs remaining etc would have highly enhanced the viewer experience. But both the channel and its panel of experts had no clue in this direction. Unless one was interested in strategy and its execution per se, the telecast would not have aided one’s complete understanding of what the teams were trying to achieve.
Hmm... A nice idea, poorly executed.
(Srinivasan Narayanan, a Director and COO at ProPart Solutions India P Ltd, is a very passionate follower of cricket)