Cricket Game or Brand?

Tra­di­tional cricket is los­ing ground to the short, in­stant for­mat that thrills cricket-lovers and brings prof­its to spon­sors.

Slogan - - FRONT PAGE - By Javed An­sari

Pak­istan joined the list of coun­tries that hold T-20 leagues when it started the Pak­istan Su­per League (PSL) three years back. It had al­ways been the de­sire of the cricket estab­lish­ment in Pak­istan to hold a cricket tour­na­ment of its own in which it could fea­ture es­tab­lished and new Pak­istani play­ers as well as have a com­po­nent for for­eign play­ers in each team. What started this trend were cricket leagues launched by al­most ev­ery cricket play­ing coun­try. The PSL has all the po­ten­tial to be­come at­trac­tive in fi­nan­cial terms in fu­ture and will make Pak­istan cricket as strong a brand as the game has be­come in other cricket-play­ing coun­tries.

It is all very nice that by or­ga­niz­ing the PSL, Pak­istan has at­tracted many in­ter­na­tional names. It is also good that whereas PSL matches were pre­vi­ously played in the UAE be­cause the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in Pak­istan was not con­sid­ered con­ducive to the hold­ing of the tour­na­ment in Pak­istan, now the PSL has pro­gressed and will be played in the UAE as well as in Pak­istan. In the last PSL event, the Fi­nal was played in La­hore. This time around, the play-off matches will be con­ducted in La­hore while the Fi­nal, based on the win­ners of the two play-off matches, will be played in Karachi on March 25, 2018.

The Pak­istan Cricket Board con­sid­ers hold­ing of the PSL as a big achieve­ment and prides it­self in the fact that it has suc­ceeded in at­tract­ing in­ter­na­tional cricket to Pak­istan de­spite all the odds it was up against ever since that fate­ful day in La­hore in 2009, when the Sri Lankan team, play­ing a Test se­ries in the coun­try, was head­ing to the Gaddafi Sta­dium. It was at­tacked, ap­par­ently by ter­ror­ists, the match was called off mid­way and the Sri Lankans hur­riedly re­turned home. How­ever, Pak­istan was since then boy­cotted by all for­eign cricket teams and no squad was will­ing to play in the coun­try.

This came as a big shocker and Pak­istani cricket fans were since then de­prived of watch­ing for­eign cricket teams com­ing to Pak­istan and play­ing in the coun­try at any venue ex­cept a one-off match or two. They were also de­prived of watch­ing their own top play­ers per­form­ing against for­eign teams. As a re­sult, Pak­istan cricket sus­tained a ma­jor set­back. In those cir­cum­stances, Pak­istan chose the UAE as its ‘home ground’ be­cause the play­ing con­di­tions in that coun­try were sim­i­lar to those in Pak­istan and many Test, ODI and T-20 se­ries were played by

Pak­istan against

for­eign teams in Shar­jah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

This was an ex­pen­sive propo­si­tion, how­ever, as ev­ery time Pak­istan went out to play a home se­ries in the UAE, it cost the PCB a lot of money. The most pop­u­lar sport in the Arab world is foot­ball but cricket be­came pop­u­lar in the UAE be­cause Pak­istan played so many in­ter­na­tional matches there though the crowds mostly com­prised the cricket-lov­ing pub­lic from Pak­istan, In­dia and other coun­tries of the sub­con­ti­nent. Be­fore this, Shar­jah had served as a pop­u­lar cricket venue as the Cricket Ben­e­fit Fund Se­ries (CBFS), or­ga­nized by Ab­dul Rehman Bukhatir and for­mer Pak­istan Test crick­eter Asif Iqbal, used to be played there. It was, how­ever, Pak­istan be­com­ing a pariah on the in­ter­na­tional cricket cir­cuit that raised the UAE’s cricket for­tunes. For this pur­pose, the coun­try even de­vel­oped new cricket venues in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and greatly im­proved the cricket sta­dium in Shar­jah.

Cricket leagues, based on T20 cricket, are very good crowd pullers and are prov­ing to be lu­cra­tive propo­si­tions for those spon­sor­ing the var­i­ous teams. They prove to be very prof­itable for those play­ing in the leagues. The play­ers are guar­an­teed good money by the ‘team-own­ers’ and, in the end, the team that wins the Fi­nal takes away a good purse. The game of cricket was tra­di­tion­ally a 5-day event and to this day, the purists rate Test cricket as real cricket. To them One Day cricket and now T-20 cricket does not por­tray the real spirit of the game. If a cricket player is to be judged for his crick­et­ing abil­i­ties, it is his per­for­mance in Test cricket that is sup­posed to bring his real tal­ent out.

Per­haps it was as a re­bel­lion to the 5-day game that the Aus­tralian busi­ness mag­nate Kerry Packer de­vised One Day cricket and cre­ated a rev­o­lu­tion in the game by steal­ing away the best play­ers from each Test cricket play­ing na­tion and or­ga­niz­ing a One Day Tour­na­ment in Aus­tralia. He paid good money to the play­ers who aban­doned their Test teams and chose to play for him. Be­fore he ar­rived on the scene, the money that play­ers earned from play­ing Test cricket was not much. ODI cricket changed all that as big money crept into the game.

Many spon­sors came into cricket to take ad­van­tage of the vast ex­po­sure that ODI cricket of­fered to their brands and big­time money came to be in­volved. The one day for­mat was much more at­trac­tive as com­pared to the 5-day game as draws or ‘ties’ be­came rare and every­one ben­e­fited. The spec­ta­tors now went home with a re­sult - one of the two teams win­ning the lim­ite­dovers, 50 overs a side match, the play­ers got paid good money and the brands ben­e­fited from the at­trac­tion that the event gen­er­ated through on-ground and print, ra­dio and TV ad­ver­tis­ing.

Soon ODI cricket had its own World Cup whereas Test cricket could never evolve such a thing. It came to a point when no one was in­ter­ested in watch­ing a 5-day Test match when a one-day en­counter usu­ally pro­duced a clear re­sult. But it seemed that cricket au­thor­i­ties and the pub­lic were not sat­is­fied even with the one-day, 50 overs for­mat that lasted a whole day. So they fur­ther re­duced the game into 20 overs a side and that is how T20 cricket was born. Cricket was now a four hours af­fair and of­fered spec­ta­tors the op­por­tu­nity to watch a com­plete game in the evening hours. Like the ODI for­mat, T-20 matches were also played on a day-night ba­sis, though now day-night cricket has also crept into Test matches.

As things stand to­day, the pub­lic is more in­ter­ested in watch­ing T-20 rather than One-Day or Test cricket – and that is where the ad­ver­tis­ers and spon­sors are spend­ing their money. That is the rea­son too that Test cricket sta­di­ums are al­most empty and one-day cricket has also lost the sheen it once had in at­tract­ing crowds. T-20 cricket has over-pow­ered ev­ery­thing else and con­sid­er­ing modern-day ex­i­gen­cies, cricket has also been trans­formed into a use­ful ad­ver­tis­ing ve­hi­cle where the play­ers make big money, the ad­ver­tis­ers and me­dia treat it as a lu­cra­tive com­mer­cial in­vest­ment – and the pub­lic is happy be­cause the game is wrapped up in a few hours rather than con­tin­u­ing for days - some­times with no re­sult at the end.

Chris Gayle

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