Social Phenomenon

Social Phenomenon

It takes a lot to lure Indians away from shopping malls and movie theatres, for house wives to switch off television soaps and watch cricket. But the 2008 Indian Premier League did just that.

At the end of the inaugural competition a report tabled by businessmen Al Yasmin Shah and Dhaval Parekh, on behalf of Alchemy Share and Stock Brokers and at the request of IPL organisers, claimed the T20 tournament had exceeded all forecasts.

A majority of teams had, or were within sight of, unexpectedly breaking even in the first financial year of the tournament. My team, the Kolkata Knight Riders, and the Rajasthan Royals recorded net profits, while the Kings XI Punjab, Delhi Daredevils, Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians were forecast to generate second season profits. It was a stunning result for franchise owners.

The report also stated television and attendance figures were beyond expectations, that the concept had captured the family market, including women. With 59 matches in 45 days, and saturation media coverage, they could hardly miss it. The IPL had such an hypnotic effect on the masses that there was a downturn in entertainment, restaurant and retail expenditure throughout the country as Indians flocked to attend, or view on television the IPL – at the expense of other social outlets.

In order to understand the growth of IPL since its inception in 2008, use this link below to gain some insight –

A shift in the demographic attending cricket games

Indian cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar noted during the IPL that there had been a shift in the demographic attending cricket games – there were more families, he believed. He claimed it was a ‘social phenomenon’ as Indian flocked to IPL games instead of movie theatres.

At least one Indian retail source attributed the retail sector’s sluggish performance in April and May 2008 to the IPL, with the exception to the downturn in the sale of TV sets. ‘Sales of televisions sets spurted – a phenomenon hitherto witnessed only during a World Cup,’ the report stated.

The surge of television sales did not surprise. I have seen TVs in Indian homes which are nothing more than a canvas roof – there seem to be televisions everywhere you go in the country. And with access to TV, there is access to cricket, which is the country’s number one sport.

I have a friend, Krishna Tunga, whom I met in Mumbai in 2001. Krishna has a great passion for cricket statistics, having provided me with data for years. I used to wonder how he watched so much cricket. However, upon touring India more and more the answer became obvious. India’s television access to world cricket is unparalleled. And accordingly, Indians are informed and very opinionated about the game.

This is how the IPL gospel was spread: from house to house via television. The media pressure in India is incredible. Everywhere you go, there are reporters and photographers. You can get off a plane at 1am and there will be 100 media people there to greet you, with 50 TV cameras. In Kolkata it rises to another level of intensity. Everyone knows who you are and you cannot escape attention. The fans are incredibly passionate and their emotions rise and fall with every win or loss. We won our last game of the 2008 season, so we finished on a high. Even when we lost three or four games in a row I never got the feeling they were baying for blood. There were inquisitions of course – everything is discussed and analysed to the nth degree – but it never became feral. I think the public granted us a bit of grace in the first season, given how quickly everything came together.

The biggest thing is the media scrum. There are always an incredible number of journalists wanting a great story. They’re at the airport, at the hotel, ringing you late at night and early in the morning. You try to fob them off and two days later you will walk back into your hotel at 2am after a game and the same journalist will be waiting for you in the lobby.

Indian commentator Harsha Bhogle explained to me that India has a ‘grab it’ mentality, so if that journalist doesn’t grab that quote he will feel disadvantaged because someone else will get it. It almost doesn’t matter what you say anyway, because they will report what they think you say or what they want you to say.

Knight Riders all-rounder and former Test and One-Day representative Ajit Agarkar agreed with Tendulkar that the IPL market had captivated a nation: ‘I know, from hearing stories, that so many house wives switched from watching regular soaps to T20 cricket. And hype was also especially noticeable among young people. For that generation, they knew exactly who was playing on what IPL team. It is amazing the way it has taken off.’

The influx of family and female audiences was a significant about-face in India because in my experience cricket there had always seemed to be a male dominated sport. Knight Riders co-owner Shah Rukh Khan led the way in popularising T20 in Kolkata for a wider audience beyond men and boys. He marketed the Knight Riders to attract children and the younger generation, and his marketing plan did not discriminate between males and females.

Shah Rukh, who would perform his dance routines at some home games, alone brought an amazing following of females because he is a handsome Bollywood superstar. He was able to help entice a spread of every age and gender mix. Young people could dance, listen to music and watch live cricket. If they didn’t want to dance, there were dancers to do it for them. It was a complete entertainment package. Players would be interviewed live mid-match or at innings end, enabling spectators to be just as well informed at those watching television at home.

IPL administrators were initially concerned whether traditional cricket followers in India would accept the concept. The game was popular but would the public warm to a franchise format where teams were based around cities, blended with Indian and overseas players, some of whom were only domestic or under 19 cricketers? Whether such a mix would gel and be embraced by the public was relatively uncertain.

What helped acceptance of the IPL

What helped acceptance of the IPL was India’s success in at the first T20 World Cup tournament in South Africa in September and October, 2007, six months prior to the IPL kick-off. India beat Pakistan in the final, sending a cricket-loving nation into raptures.

The rebel Indian Cricket League, which followed the T20 World Cup by a few months, was well received in the Indian marketplace, giving confidence to those plotting the IPL. Any fears regarding the acceptance of ‘artificial’ franchises were soon dismissed. Players were idolised whether they were locals or internationals, and supporters adopted the franchises like enthusiastic shareholders. ‘I could not believe so many people were shouting for a franchise team. The crowd, the passion, the following,’ McCullum observed from the KKR dug-out.

The present IPL scheduling enables weekday afternoon or evening matches – and both on weekends. To preserve the length of the tournament while incorporating more teams would mean three games a day – morning, afternoon and evening. Such a change has not been embraced, and in fact the popularity of the Champions League has diminished to the point where it will not occur in 2015 due to lack of sufficient broadcast interest; or should it be said lack of broadcast interest for the price being asked by Champions League management.

In terms of its global impact, T20 has influenced a fundamental change in the way cricket is played, from the grass-roots up. Many of the innovations and skill sets required by or developed because of the T20 format are becoming integrated into all formats of cricket at all levels. Until now, the way cricket is played has been based on the long form of the game, with the skills required for Test and first class cricket adapted to the shorter, limited-overs formats.

T20 cricket will create the opportunity for more children to play the game, and will become the format most played by juniors. This will result in the skills and practices of the shortest form of the game influencing the more traditional versions. The skills required in T20 cricket almost marks a return to backyard cricket, where enjoyment comes from throwing the bat at the ball and bowling as fast as you can or with as many varities of deliveries as you can physically concoct. It’s not necessarily cricket according the MCC coaching manual, but players will still need the fundamentals. T20 is an explosive game where risk is a given. Batters must be fearless.

Innovation will become more common

Innovation will become more common. Australian sensation David Warner can bat and throw with both hands. I noticed him batting right-handed in the nets at the Centre of Excellence, which is what first attracted me to him in 2006. There will be a small group of players who are effectively ambidextrous. At the moment they are not encouraged, but as their value becomes apparent, this talent will be nurtured from an early age. At the Knight Riders in 2009 we added one such player to our development squad.

Warner rose to prominence with a couple of extraordinary performances for New South Wales in both the 20- and 50-over versions of the game, becoming the first man since 1877 to play for Australia without having played a first class match. 2008 Knight Riders assistant coach Matthew Mott aroused our interest in him and we found ourselves in a bidding war for his services with Delhi, with his price eventually rising higher than we were prepared to pay. But he was one of the new breed of cricketers, of which we will only see more in the coming years: cricketers raised on the shorter games, for whom innovation is as natural as a forward defensive.

Reverse sweeping has come a long way since Mike Gatting infamously lost his wicket trying it in the 1987 World Cup final. Nowadays, players like England’s Kevin Pietersen reverse slog-sweep sixes as a matter of course. Most international players have this shot or a version of this shot, in their kitbag now. But it’s not as easy as it looks. What I do hear and notice at young school holiday cricket camps, is that the reverse sweep, the ramp shot and others are being encouraged by the young coaches and teachers involved.

Some people have asked whether it is fair for a batsman to basically change from left- to right-handed or vice versa as the bowler is in his delivery stride. After all, a bowler has to give notification if he is to change his line of attack from over to around the wicket. What if he were to switch and without telling the batsman, bowl with his left arm instead of his right? The current rules of the game do not allow for the bowling change, but I don’t have a problem with batsman changing their stance, as long as the bowler is not too disadvantaged. Umpires need to be given lenience with wides and batsman should give up any ‘pitched outside leg stump’ defense in the case of LBW appeals.

Any form of innovation that makes the game more entertaining should be encouraged. T20 demands batters and bowlers are inventive. Batters are ahead at this stage, as bowling is not as inventive and lacks control. A baseball pitcher is able to target ‘hitting matrixes’ with precision – bowlers need to be able to do the same.

T20 has proved to be a crowd-pleaser in established areas, attracting much larger attendances than Test cricket currently does – apart from iconic Test series such as Ashes, India v Pakistan, India v England, India v Australia. The shorter playing time will appeal to newcomers to our sport and allow the game to compete with established sports in non-traditional cricket regions. The IPL has given us a glimpse of the future of cricket. It will continue to lead the way as the game grows and evolves.

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