Cricket Times They Are A-Changin’

Cricket, the game of glorious uncertainties. World Cup, the biggest stage the game has to offer. And how the stage has changed!

kapil1983In 1983, Kapil Dev played one of the most breath-taking innings (apparently) to help steer India out of tight corner. At 18/5, Kapil and Kirmani carefully constructed a partnership to take India to a winning total. Against the perpetual minnows – Zimbabwe. Kapil, that day, scored 175 not out. Out of a total of 166. Kirmani scored 22. Unfortunately for the world, there are no tapes or archives of that day because of a BBC strike. No one was recording it on a TiVo or HD+ or their high def cell phones. India went on to win the World Cup in 1983.

dyanora-tv-oldFor 28 years, Indian cricket fan reminisced about the 1983 Prudential Cup win, the catch that Kapil took to dismiss Viv Richards, the greatest ODI cricketer of all times, the 175 not out, the military medium of Madan Lal, Mohinder Amarnath, Roger Binny, and the guile of Bedi, that spell of Sandhu, and many such things. In 1983, many Indian families bought the black and white TV sets from companies like Salora, Uptron, Beltron. Many of those companies do not compete in the television market, or any market for that matter, any more. Some of those TV sets came with wooden cabinets that people would close to protect them from dust and unwanted access. The channels had to be changed by twisting a hard knob that made the sound of cricket ball hitting the bat (almost). And the memories are distinctly black and white – a beaming Kapil Dev wearing an Indian Cricket Team jacket/ sports-coat (logo on the breast pocket) holding that cup at the Lords’ balcony – etched on an Indian cricket lovers’ mind for almost three decades.

Back then, they sold post-cards. In the absence of desktop wallpapers or Facebook walls, people collected bingo cards and post-cards of players. K Srikanth hitting a lofted square cut, Sunny Gavaskar smiling in a close up, Ravi Shastri in that blue and yellow jersey with a white helmet at the Benson & Hedges series down under, Kapil Dev’s signature bowling pose. There was Big Fun, a chewing gum company, which must have made a fortune by somehow convincing a generation of cricket watchers to collect bingo cards of cricket and football players.

In the coming three decades, we tried hard to repeat that feat. In 1987, the first world cup outside England, in India, we lost the semi-finals of Reliance World Cup. Shortly thereafter, we pinned our hopes on a short fellow named Tendulkar. 1992 wasn’t ours (we won 2 of 8 matches). 1996 took us to the semi-finals again, where a Sri Lankan demon (the first one after Ravana) took us apart.  Tendulkar fought back valiantly, but once he left the golden rectangle (like Jataayu), even the pitch turned on us. In 1999 (horrible super six performance), 2003 (a Bazooka Ponting vs Zaheer Satkela in Final), 2007 (knocked out in round robin with one win against Bermuda!), we hit a here and there, a reasonable high and an embarrassing low.

During this time, the whites were replaced by colourful dresses and multiple brand endorsements. And the black and whites were replaced by color TVs. The CTVs were replaced by a myriad of varieties – Plasma, LCD, LTV, Flat screen, curved LED, 3D, Smart TV. Internet streaming is the new thing. The broadcasting evolved. From 1-3-5 cameras per match, suddenly, there are more than 20-30 cameras per game. There are cranes and javelins and quadcopters. There are moving boundary cameras. There is stump-vision. Oh, how I loved the Sky-network’s boundary camera vision which moved from right to left as the bowlers ran in to bowl!

By 2015, the few commentators that used to be have given way to an army of commentators. Sometimes, the line up of commentators is like a team that could take on any of the current world-cup contenders with aplomb, despite their age. The time spent on technicalities by ex-greats have made a successful commentator out of Ravi Shastri (for the sheer variety he introduces in the commentary box with phrases like ‘tracer bullets’) and Harsha Bhogle (the common man’s commentator).

From two umpires, we moved to three. From three, we have moved to 3+ technology. We have seen Hawk-eye, spin vision, snicko meters, hot-spots, stump mics that record sound, and multiple cameras whose job is to just watch your bat and the crease. We have learnt all about “it’s the on field umpire’s call”. We have learnt about marginal errors. And we have noted with great relief that Steve Bucknor’s faulty version could be replaced by an android. Finally!

The equipments evolved too. From the culture of heavy bats for heavy ground strokes, we moved to long handles, light bats, custom bats, curved edges, heavy bottoms. Somewhere, we learnt about Tennis elbow too. Leather balls became white. No longer a shining red cherry, yeah? And now, one ball has given way to two. To be used from different ends of the stadium. The softer kookaburras to the harder SGs, the realization that SG was Sanspareills Greenlands, and not Sunil Gavaskar, also became all pervasive. Thigh pads and helmets became lighter and sturdier. The LED lights of stumps and bales – who’d have thought! Reviewing umpire decisions rather than getting fined for showing dissent is almost as strong a deviation from the gentlemen’s game as an Indian bowler clocking speeds of 145+ consistently. Umesh Yadav – you have my vote for now!

The discussions evolved. From quoting shots and moments, the cricket debaters have started quoting statistics – averages, home and away records, fastest 100s, strike rates, no of dots in a double century, game impact index. The visualizations now show multi-coloured lines to show the singles and the boundaries and the wickets. There is an accurate capturing of short and good length deliveries. There are dossiers that players carry on their iPad. About their competition. Joel Garner probably believed in small things. Like bowling at fiery pace and making the bowl land in the right areas. And playing mind games. Most teams in the last world cup were probably spending 6 hours discussing how to get Sachin Tendulkar or Virendar Sehwag out by reviewing various batting tapes.

And then 2011 happened. Yuvraj happened. Sachin happened. Mahendra Singh Dhoni happened. The bowlers tendulkar2011showed up. The fielders did. And Wankhede erupted. And a new memory got etched in the new generation’s sub-conscious – that glorious six to win the world cup, Mahindra Singh Dhoni holding the pose after hitting that six and then completing a gladiatorial 360-degree swing of the bat, a team carrying Sachin Tendulkar around the ground, and sending the cup to the background. The color across the stadium – Blue. And yes, the tricolor. And Sunil Gavaskar making the remark – “when I die, the last thing I want to see is the six that Dhoni hit in the 2011 world cup final”. Now when I think of winning the world cup, my memories are not Black and White. They are, 32-bit-high-definition-high-resolution-high blah blah, full of colors. Oh, how the game has changed!

 

There is a small thing that hasn’t changed. Commentary on radio used to be a visual narration filled with excitement. It could not depend on visual aids or the colors. It has stayed Black and White.

“Amarnath is bowling from the pavilion end to right arm batsman Ian Botham.

Bowl thoda andar ki taraf aayee aur ballebaaz ne kalai ko ghumate hue square leg ki taraf bhej diya hai. Umpire chusti se hatTe hue. Bahut hi aakarshak stroke tha Narottam (Puri), aur bahut hi khoobsurti se is se pehle ki fielder Bishan Bedi gend tak pahunche, Botham ne ek run poora kar liya hai. Bahut hi sadhaa hua shot tha aur aise shots se hi aapko pata chalta hai ki Botham jitney ache gendbaaj hain, utne hi ache ballebaaj bhi.”

 

“Agli gend karne ko gendbaaz mohammad shami pavilion end se hawa ke virudh daudte hue, aur off stump se thoda bahar tappa kha ke, halke se bahar ki taraf gayee aur ye jordaar appeal. Aur ye umpire in Ian Bell ko out karaar diya. Mahindra Singh Dhoni ka ye is match mein teesra catch, aur Shami ka pehla wicket.

Absolutely Shekhar. This was a beautiful outswinger. You could say that it did not swing much. It just held its line and from the wide angle of the crease from where Shami bowled it, that was good enough to flummox a well set batsman like Ian Bell. Kudos to Shami for having persisted with that line and invite Ian Bell to play that shot. Bell played inside the line and was beaten all hands up. With that we will take a short advertisement break and we will back shortly to celebrate this wicket.”

Oh! Sorry. There’s one thing that has really changed about radio commentary – There are no boundaries hit on air anymore. They are “shandaar BSNL chauka. Connecting India.”

 

 

 

 <This post is my entry for the Blogmint – Harsha – Blogger Dream Team Contest>

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Tomorrow, we will win

My heart skips a beat, as I think about the match tomorrow. In anticipation, trepidation, excitement and fear.

In 1983, when India won the worldcup, I was 3 years old, my brother was 7, and we were a joint-ish family living in a small town of Uttar Pradesh. I think it was around the middle of the world cup that our family bought a TV, a black and white Uptron TV, that used to come with wooden slider doors to keep the TV safe while you weren’t watching it. It was on that TV that my mamaji, my cousin, my dad and everyone else saw India lift the cup, and it was then that my brother became a cricket fanatic. I think my love for cricket has something to do with that world cup, because I do remember watching every match of the World Championship Series in Australia after that, and Ravi Shastri winning that Audi as the man of the series.

In 1996, I was a India fanatic when it came to cricket. A fan, who believed that irrespective of the quality of opposition, India is entitled to win every match. Just to get disappointed every now and then, but holding on to the belief. Tendulkar had come of age. I had belief. And there was a small matter of faith in match winners like Ajay Jadeja and Anil Kumble.

In 1996, we played Pakistan in Bangalore, and in that era, my brother was a gully cricket mate of a certain Mahindra Singh Dhoni, and I was Mahi’s school cricket mate. I had played cricket at the school and district level. I had played alongside this someone who I thought could make it big, but never would. It was too difficult to break the shackles of corruption in Bihar, inside sports as well. Nepotism was a fact, and the opportunities were fewer. My brother had stopped representing any team, and started trying to build a career based on academic education, and I had chosen to get ready for the mass orgy known as IIT Joint Entrance Examination. I had, for what it was worth, hung my boots. But I was a fan nevertheless. The evenings in a small town like Ranchi, and in a township like Mecon are all about celebrating the victory of the match gone by, or the drowning of the loss. We played tennis ball cricket. We felt happy that India had defeated Pakistan. Few days later, we met Sri Lanka, a team we had lost to in the league stage (and we called it a fluke), and a team that we lost to yet again (bad pitch, right), despite that oh so hopeful brilliance of getting Jayasurya and Kaluwitharana out early. The memory of Vinod Kambli in tears still swells me up. Even though I know for sure that we could not have won the match from there.

15 years later, I am still a fan. I am not fanatic anymore. MSD is inside the television, and I am on the armchair. Given the company I keep, and the analysis that everyone does, and the views and opinions that are bombarded at me from all corners, I have, I believe, become pragmatic. When India plays Australia, I weigh options, and think of getting Ponting out cheaply because he is not just a sheet anchor, he is also a destroyer, and an aggressive leader. I evaluate the weaknesses of Indian bowling. Back then, watching a cricket match was about shouting childish abuses, stupid chants of abracadabra – arvinda desilva swaha, and wishing that every delivery get a wicket, or every shot from Tendulkar’s willow be a boundary. Today, it’s about appreciating that brilliant spell from Wahab Riaz or Brett Lee, even as they come close to demolishing the Indian dream of winning this world cup. If I don’t do that, people will think that I am a biased Indian who is not enjoying the game in totality, and missing out on much the game has to offer. Well – intellectualism comes at a price. It often takes your passion away. One upon a time, I too wanted to wear the blue. And those who wear it, and have walked inside a stadium full of people cheering you to win (Mahi wears it. I envy him. And I love him for that), I can only dream of the high they feel. At that one moment, its not rational. And I create that moment. I am no Navjot Singh Sidhu sitting in an air-conditioned studio analyzing the game. I am ‘The Indian Fan’. And to me, the only thing that eventually makes or breaks my days, is whether India won or not.

And so, this world cup, for the quarter final and the semi final, against two brilliantly tough opponents, I let my heart be where it belongs. I watched and predicted like an Indian fan. Before the match started, my heart and mind knew only one thing. That we will win. I chanted. And I cursed. I did not get up from seat with the fear of jinxing things. Things might have looked like going this way or the other as the match progressed, but I knew only one thing. That we will win. As Ponting accumulated a masterclass century, and people started talking about the pressure, I still said only one thing. That we will win. As Wahab Riaz ripped Indian top order, and analysts and pundits said that we are some 30 runs short, I still said only one thing. That we will win. I added, purely from my heart, that the margin will be 30 runs at least. And my heart was right. We did win. By 29 runs.

Now, we are back to an opponent who’s given us one of the worst scars of cricket, with the exception of Miandad’s Six in Sharjah. Incidentally, after India lost the sharjah, I tore off all the Chetan Sharma posters at home, that used to come with Cricket Samrat. When India lost that 1987 match against Australia, I did feel betrayed by Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri and co. In 1996, I felt sorry for Sachin, and I hated the entire team for what they brought the match to (apparently). Was there any logic in those emotions? I doubt.

I don’t want to be pragmatic and think about the strengths and weaknesses of my team. No. I am back to where my heart belongs. I know that we are going to win. And damn it, I will raise the stakes this time. If India bats first, we will win by at least 35 runs, and if India chases, we are winning by at least 5 wickets. And till these predictions are violated, you can try and use any mathematics, logic, divine analysis to suggest that something otherwise would happen. I would just stick my tongue out at you.. make a :P, and then go “brrrrrrrrrr”. I will be there. Watching every ball of the match. And believing in only one thing. That we will win.

You still want to say something? Brrrrrrr…. We Will Win

India-Pak Semi: The Pinnacle of Advertising in India

Today should be noted in the books of history. It doesn’t happen too often. And it’s unlikely to happen again in the next 8 years. As India play Pakistan in the semifinal of Cricket World Cup, the world of adveritsing would have changed, and the price barriers would have set a new benchmark for how expensive an ad slot can be. It will be interesting if any weed smoking son of the gun can calculate the real ROI of an ad slot today.
Here’s the opportunity (the ‘for dummies” version) –

  • Everyone’s watching – It’s that one topic. If you are marginally aware of cricket, you’d be watching it. If you’re not, then you’d be forced to, because the others won’t let you put anything else on the tube.
  • The same thing – The match is being telecast on three channels I guess- DD, Star Cricket, Star Sports. Each of them have their reach and captive audience. English speaking audience would prefer Star Cricket, given the commentator panel. DD would be the default for the parts of the country where people don’t still have cable tv/ set top boxes.
  • And they are confident India would win – the confidence of the nation, because despite the relative strengths or weaknesses, Pakistan has never defeated India in a world cup match. Oz and SL have. And that’s why the emotions are a lot more subdued. Lots of critics would weigh the balance of the two sides. And lots of people on the street would feel that we are going to the final. Its as much a celebration as it is an encounter
  • Yet they expect it and want it to be competitive – It has usually been like that. And more so in our head than in reality. A 50 run partnership in another match can be seen as normal, but would be seen as a high pressure situation for the bowling side today. So, people are going to take it to the wire, irrespective of the end score.
  • Without any lapse of attention – Its an 8 hour+ marathon. That tension would means a higher adrenalin rush, and greater attention to the most minute details of your ad. People will be all eyes and ears. They will watch just that one channel, and will keep looking for it. Because they don’t want to miss that moment when something happens – that wicket, that boundary, that divine shot, or that cut, or that miss.
  • And will be discussing it – everyone’s a critic today. Everyone has an opinion. And today, it’s out in the open. To the extent, that they would discuss the ads that feature the cricketers to assess how weird/funny/ridiculous it might be. In some cases, those ad taglines would be used in the context of the match. Imagine Shoaib bowling a bouncer to Sachin and thousands of people quipping – aisi delivery khelne ke liye protection chahiye.
  • In their rooms – Quite like the superbowl, there is a frenzy in metros and villages alike. Inverters/ Batteries/ Generators have been arranged for and charged to ensure that a power failure does not stop them from watching the match. Watch-dos have been organized by people inviting friends/ family/ colleagues. Offices have arranged for projects and audio systems for large hall screenings. And people will be reaching early to get their prized seats early.
  • Or, on the internet – If OZ match was an indication – half the internet generation of India would be tweeting/facebooking about the match, with their emotions out in the open. There will less analysis, and more expression of the moment. Y
  • And will remember – Yes. We may not remember what the boss said this morning. But we are pretty good at remembering that six Sachin Tendulkar hit of Kasprowicz in that Desert Storm innings, or the exact shape of the Venkatesh Prasad delivery that took care of Aamir Sohail. And Sehwag ki Maa stays as one of the most epic ads (in terms of recall) ever. I won’t be surprised if Yuvraj’s Revital and bhaag daud se bhari zindagi might be the next one.
  • If they like or dislike something – the opinions and expressions are not always about things people dislike. It covers the likes, the neutrals, the sharpness or the dimwittedness of the moment, analysis of players, analysis of commentators, ads, presentation ceremony and everything else.
  • And while doing all this, they are consuming! Let’s not forget that these viewers will also be guzzling down large quantities of drinks (Alocholic and non-alocholic) with chips, popcorns, dine-in orders, kebabs, pakodas and what nots. Unless the delivery guy of the neighborhood shop refuses to go for delivery today, or the ever so accommodating mothers and wives decide to join the cricket party.

What you are assured of is an assured and a HUGE number of viewers who’d not flip the channel even as you beam them with the most inane and absurd ads, and there are quite a few of them. What you gonna do that’s gonna leave a name for you? In advertising, there cannot be bad recall, as long as there is recall.
And yes, its also a day where the nation’s collective productivity loss would have most likely offset any commercial return possible. Even the Prime Minister is not working. Yet, wouldn’t the ultimate master of ceremonies say – “People of India, and People of the World, ARE YOU HAVING FUN?”

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