Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The New World Order!

The multiplexes on strike; and the money spinning movie industry hasn’t got it going right! That fresh smell of popcorn has gone out of mind and the cola machines do not dispense their usual supplies! Yet the family continue on their good times – 6 years or 60, they’re hooked on and don’t blink an eye! There is drama, there’s action; suspense, the thrills and chills. Humour at times and pretty dames in their frills doing their drills! What you’ve mistaken for your family’s favourite movie rental is actually the world of the IPL T20! Yes, their move to South Africa last year may not have taken the revenues ablaze, but the multiplexes strike probably ensured that the cash registers kept ringing.

Today, T20 cricket is a household word; it might even make it to the dictionary very soon. But how did it all start? In our fast lives of fast cars and fast food, why should have cricket stayed behind? It needed to pick the pace – 8 hours was too long a wait! Bosses won’t give time off work, the Cricinfos are blocked and cricket isn’t available on any search! Why can’t we watch cricket after work, much like soccer and rugby that is played in other parts of the world?

God answers our prayers – and so He did! The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) sprung a format that drew the people back to the sport. After all, cricket has its roots in England but was slowly loosing its ground, popularity and the mega-sponsorship bucks to sports like soccer and rugby! And why wouldn’t it? A game of soccer/rugby is excitingly packaged in two hours whereas cricket takes an agonising eight. People, especially the youth, did not have the time from their busy lives to appreciate and acknowledge the nuances and quality of something like test cricket.

It was called Twenty20 (now T20) – a format that not only revolutionised the face of English cricket but also got ECBs sponsorship deals cracking! The year 2003 saw the advent of the game – people become crowds; the stands were packed – cricket, excitement and festivity; all in a blender for a perfect action-packed evening, of course, served best with your favourite pint of chilled beer! Television coverage grew and you couldn’t keep the sponsors out for too long. ECB had hit a jackpot! Their creation was one that would take the world cricketing arena by storm.

Its popularity grew globally across all cricketing nations and 2005 saw the first T20I – Twenty20 International between New Zealand and Australia. The game turned more like an exhibition game with both the crowds and players taking it light and having a good time. T20 soon became a part of all itineraries – Test matches, ODIs (One Day Internationals) and at least that one T20I! But the game was about to get serious; the rainbow nation of South Africa hosted the first ever T20 World Cup, with India edging out arch rivals Pakistan to lift the maiden T20 World Title – T20 and cricket couldn’t have asked for a better platform for publicity!

And if that wasn’t enough, the world’s biggest, most powerful, influential and richest board, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), introduced the Indian Premier League (IPL) – with a tagline ‘Karmyudh’. The IPL saw the frenzy cricket loving nation of India become a battleground of the world’s best cricketers, who would otherwise be rubbing shoulders against each other, in some unlikely but dream-like unforgettable alliances. The IPL had it all; there was something in for everyone. From housewives to the damsels who knew nothing about cricket to the ardent supporters of Test Cricket, all were hooked. Young executives holding their beer mugs chanted and cheered for their favourite teams after hours at their favourite pubs. Shane Watson became a hero, the next pin-up poster boy, with performances impressive enough to bag the call from his national side. And if you thought that Sachin Tendulkar would always be wooed over Shane Warne by a packed capacity Indian crowd, you were in for a surprise. If the second season was all set to loose its popularity due to the general elections and having moved to South Africa, it took one ‘Super-over’ to send the temperatures soaring and nerves-cracking and get the viewers hooked on back again! The IPL was a hit – whether it was held in India or South Africa and BCCI’s cash machines were ringing louder than ever.

But the game seemed to have been destroyed. There was no respect or respite for the bowlers; brawn took over from skill because it was believed that T20 was all about getting the ball into the stands. Test cricket seemed to be at risk. Now, I am a purist myself and strongly believe that Test cricket cannot be dethroned, but honestly, have I ever watched a full game of Test Cricket? Would I ever watch a Test match featuring Australia and Bangladesh? T20 on the other hand has shown that on their day, a Netherlands are capable of beating an England. The likes of Kumble, Warne, Dravid and Hayden showed that T20 wasn’t a young mans game after all and is not all about bowlers always facing the music and batsmen simply slogging it out!

The fact that Indian prodigies get to play and learn with and from their childhood heroes and international superstars cannot be undermined. The fact that cricket is passionately being followed in the Americas who are now planning an APL cannot be neglected. Quality of cricket would only improve from here; the aggressiveness would rub on to Test cricket that would translate into more result-oriented games, further creating the interest back into Test cricket. Yeah, cricket made money; cricketers made money; sponsors got their target audiences; but audiences got their moneys worth and T20 has become the underpinning factor for the globalisation of the sport.

Cricket gave T20 and eventually T20 will give the world – Cricket. The new world order is here – take a bow!

PS: The third season of the IPL is back in India; Mumbai hosting the opening encounter between Deccan Chargers and Kolkata Knight Riders. Booked your tickets yet?

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