If Virender Sehwag was a corporate executive, he’d be rated EE (exceeding expectation) in his performance appraisal and rewarded with a promotion as well as a 200% bonus.
Not surprising, considering Viru is cricket’s commentary king who people would tune in to hear even if Zimbabwe are playing Bangladesh.
It is easy to understand the reason for his surging popularity. In the commentary box, Viru’s is a refreshing voice spoken in a simple and direct manner.
There is no pretence, no desire to sound clever, no intent to impress. His style is a cocktail of typical Virender Sehwag swagger (always front foot, willing to have a go), spicy insights and honest opinion. He does not hold back, does not spare anyone and is highly entertaining. Sehwag makes the viewers feel he is chatting sitting next to them in their drawing room.
That Sehwag speaks in aam aadmi’s Hindi is a bonus and a happy coincidence. Research on cricket commentary commissioned by broadcasters sometime back threw up unexpected findings. Viewer response indicated most had never witnessed a ‘live’ game, their knowledge of cricket was scratchy and they had no desire to get into complicated technicalities.
Armed with this feedback, the broadcasters decided to change the language, grammar and tone of cricket commentary. It essentially meant more Hindi, less tuition on technique and emphasis on information instead of instruction.
Everyone has a right to express their views without being bullied or threatened. Gurmehar Kaur or the Phogat sisters.— Virender Sehwag (@virendersehwag) March 1, 2017
Serious discussion on wrist/ seam positions, reverse swing, bat speed may sound great but does not enhance the commentary experience of bemused viewers.
Given this background, Sehwag’s arrival in the commentary booth was perfectly timed. His connect with the audience was immediate, just like his rapid takeoff when starting an innings.With strong word of mouth working for him, Viru soon became a celebrity commentator and his growing fame resulted in television ratings going up.
This, in fact, is a serious achievement because television numbers fuel the cricket economy. Media revenue is of critical importance in cricket’s ecosystem, it is essential oxygen and sunshine that sustains the sport. Television rights deals make IPL commercially successful and decide the profitability of franchisees. Media revenue is also the cause of the current dispute in ICC about the ‘Big Three’ and the proposed financial structuring.
Broadcasters and those governing cricket recognise the importance of attracting and retaining fans. That’s why the relentless effort to engage and reach out to newer audiences. While England is launching an ambitious programme to target young kids, Australia is focused on getting families to attend games and South Africa recently announced plans to copy the IPL model of constructing a coalition of cricket, entertainment and private enterprise.
Interestingly, just as Indian television shifted decisively to Hindi, Australia’s Big Bash League has started radio commentary in Hindi.
Virender Sehwag is part of this change to extend the boundary of cricket and expand its base. In his post retirement second innings, holding a mike instead of a bat, Viru remains a supreme entertainer!
(Amrit Mathur is a former sports administrator who worked with the BCCI as a media manager)