Press the mute button, the IPL show is on
The line between cricketainment and the ridiculous seems to have been crossed. And we find ourselves standing at a very silly point.
By Abhilasha Khaitan
Think of the worst Bollywood movie you’ve had to endure. Go on, scrape the bottom of the barrel, think Action Replayy, Tashan, worse. Now, pit that experience against what you have been forced to digest before, after and, painfully, even during an IPL game. Chunky Pandey was never that unbearable.
There’s really no way to say this without sounding rude but a pretty face and a faux accent do not a good presenter make. Remember Ruby Bhatia? A quick refresher: she’s the original Mandira Bedi, the Canadian-accented VJ who was introduced to cricket watchers by the channel that telecast the Champions Trophy in 2002-03. The channel brought in Bedi after Bhatia was booted out for the very reason she was hired – not knowing squat about cricket. In an interview to Kolkata’s The Telegraph in March 2003, Bhatia was quoted as saying, “I don’t know anything about cricket. My brief from Sony was just to be my bubbly self. But people assumed I was there as a commentator. That’s why they did not accept me.” (Note: Bedi was successful and, to be fair, it wasn’t just about the bare arms. She wore her ignorance with charm and was more appealing than her pedantic co-host, Charu Sharma, at the time)
This was in the early 2000s, around the time it was decided by some brainiacs that cricket was not entertainment enough to pull in the crowds. So they started packaging the on-field action with band baja baraat. (No, Lalit Modi cannot be blamed for starting the tamasha, only for magnifying it many, many fold.)
The circus may have enthralled in its novelty for a while, but the line between cricketainment and the ridiculous seems to have been crossed. We clearly find ourselves at a very silly point.
Even the World Cup shows, helmed by the sensible Harsha Bhogle, were rendered unwatchable largely due to the presence of one Navjot Singh Sidhu – sure, his Indian co-experts like to fondly call him “incorrigible” and “unique” but we all know what those words really mean. Anyway, there was much Twitter chatter about Sidhu and one thought if the social networking platform was a great indicator of ‘trends’, then the man would be relegated to politics in Punjab for a while.
But a week later, there he was again, even louder and more obnoxious, along with all these shiny, perky, wide-eyed people. Which woodwork did they bounce out of?
Mr Modi may tut-tut-tweet about dipping IPL ratings, but the fall has little to do with the absence of his brilliance. One is, obviously, the overdose of cricket. I mean, we all have jobs to do, wages to earn. Two is, though I have no scientific research to back my theory, the increasingly ridiculous packaging of the tournament has much to do with viewer apathy. Who would waste time to hear Sidhu say this: “They have dug their own grave with their teeth and god gives the toothless nuts to chew on,” a comment he made after Kochi Tuskers lost against Delhi Daredevils. Funny, you think? I have seen housewives and children (the supposed target audience of such tomfoolery) switch to other channels when the tamasha brigade takes centre stage.
Dumbing down is so passé a content strategy that even Bollywood has taken note. When will the cricket broadcasters wake up to this change?
A Test series I remember watching ball-by-ball was when India toured Australia in 1999-2000. I really didn’t care that we were losing – no, make that meekly surrendering. I would set the alarm for 4 am (or 3 am depending on which part of the continent they were playing). I would unfailingly drag myself out of bed, blanket in tow, and plonk myself on the couch, and wait for the telecast to begin.
I could have delayed my wake-up call by another half-hour or so, not an insignificant period in the land of Nod. But I didn’t want to miss the pre-match comments and analysis. I may not have agreed with the experts but I never dismissed them or shuddered when they spoke. The budding sports writer in me enjoyed the studio banter between former cricketing giants and connoisseurs of the game. Yes, they used the odd cliché and ranted on a bit but hey, that’s when you could catch a few winks. Good times.
Over the last few years, many of us – the bleary-eyed cricket junkies – have been studiously avoiding all the television chatter around the shorter versions of the game. There is something about the stiff upper lip surrounding five-day cricket that adds a certain old-world class and brings old-fashioned fans like me back to the TV set. I can’t wait for the Test series in England to start. Maybe it’s the accent after all.
An MBA by chance, a writer by choice and a foodie at heart, Abhilasha Khaitan is still finding her way through the world of possibilities. Along the way, she has picked up a degree from IIM-A, worked as a management consultant, tried her hand as sports editor, edited the Mumbai edition of a national daily and is now keen on making at least one Bollywood blockbuster before she retires to a Lakshwadeep island.
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