The sight of Kolkata's Eden Garden lying vacant against both England and West Indies must surely be the last straw. Cricket urgently needs to instil a sense of occasion and context in its tournaments to hold the audience's attention © Getty Images
The sight of Kolkata’s Eden Garden lying vacant against both England and West Indies must surely be the last straw. Cricket urgently needs to instil a sense of occasion and context in its tournaments to hold the audience’s attention © Getty Images

 

By Madan Mohan

 

During the 1996 World Cup, Pepsi launched an ad campaign that captured cricket mania in India. That campaign arguably cemented its brand in the Indian market. The ad had one seemingly lonely dude declaring to what was ostensibly a reporter’s mike, “I don’t watch (insert censored expletive) cricket, man!”  At that time, the dude represented the snobbish hipster run roughshod by the cricket carnival. Where would you be if you weren’t watching the cricket World Cup in India! But the progress of the home cricket season thus far suggests that the erstwhile hipsters have now come home to roost.

 

Attendance at the grounds for matches held during the last two months has been rather dismal. Champions League Twenty20, ODI cricket, Test cricket…none have been spared.  Or rather, none have captured the audience’s enthusiasm. It’s almost as if the audience is chanting as one, “I don’t wanna watch any more cricket, man!”

 

Time was when a so-called revenge series or rematch would have generated a lot of buzz.  Instead, England came, got thrashed and returned home and it barely registered. Poor attendance for the Test series against West Indies is really no surprise but it does not even seem to matter much whether India would find some momentum again at home after the debacle in England. We really couldn’t care less because we can’t keep pace anymore with the relentless and tiresome conveyer belt of cricket fixtures.

 

There’s a parallel here to Bollywood. Let’s have a show of hands: How many of you reading this article has watched the film Baazigar more than once? I remember when it was difficult to get tickets for a film like Sarfarosh even after the opening week and Aamir Khan was not such hot property then as he is now. Today, if you wait more than a week, chances are you won’t be able to catch the film on the big screen; that’s how long it’s generally viable to run it on theatre! In both cases, the makers or powers that be seem to have operated with the same assumption: People don’t have anything better to do so they will watch a movie or a cricket match. Bollywood has also been happy to defer to cricket season, knowing that, all things considered, Salman Khan’s brawny might is no match for Sachin Tendulkar.

 

That is no longer true. People have more options today if they want to spend an evening.  Retail therapy has become popular with the advent of malls and combining it with a trip to the multiplex does not seem to be the most favoured choice that theatre owners thought it would be. People have also begun to follow other sports. Telecast of other sports is also more accessible and covers more events.

 

This is the first year that I began to watch non-slam tennis tournaments. Why? Because I felt the real need for change. I don’t necessarily put cricket on top priority as far as TV viewing goes anymore. That is the other problem with the working model of cricket and Bollywood: too much of anything is bad. The cricket calendar is so jam-packed with inconsequential bilateral fixtures that the audience has become fatigued and bored. Cricket urgently needs to instil a sense of occasion and context in its tournaments to hold the audience’s attention.

 

Perhaps, the BCCI thought that just as people don’t get bored of going to the temple, they wouldn’t get bored of watching cricket either. Turns out cricket’s stranglehold over India’s imagination is not quite that overpowering. If cricket doesn’t swing into action and do something about this now, I wonder when it would ever.

 

There is a possibility that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) may respond, however. Poor performances and recurring injuries have not convinced the BCCI that there’s way too much cricket being played. But the language of money has more currency among its members, I’d assume. The sight of Kolkata’s Eden Garden lying vacant even as India sealed a thumping victory over West Indies must surely be the last straw.

 

Cricket needs to ask why it ought to be watched at all. And, hopefully, the resultant churning will lead to some positive directions for its future.

 

 

(Madan Mohan, a 25-year old CA from Mumbai, is passionate about writing, music and cricket. Writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake)