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