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Making fools of viewers ‘strategically’

cricket Updated: Apr 21, 2009 01:01 IST
Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu
Hindustan Times
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IT’S NO surprise that someone like Lalit Modi came up with the idea of a seven-and-a-half minute break in what is cricket’s fastest, most action-packed and abbreviated form. After all, it gives you just enough time to squeeze in two extra two-and-a-half minute advertising spots to rake in the moolah or step out for a quick cigarette – two things Modi quite likes. But that apart, these breaks serve no useful cricketing purpose, as even early trials are revealing.

When John Carr of the England and Wales Cricket Board pioneered the Twenty20 concept, one of core reasons in reducing an innings to 20 overs, or about 90 minutes, was to mimic the action and pace of a football match. The idea was to keep fans in their seats for a reasonable stretch of time, still providing for a break between innings to pick up refreshments or make a quick visit to the toilet. For television viewers, 90 minutes was about the length of a Hollywood film (or the interval in our Bollywood potboilers).

Cricket does not embrace change easily, but seldom is there widespread condemnation of an experiment. In this case, both winners and losers, players and coaches, have come together to make their feelings on “strategy breaks” crystal clear (see box). Had this happened in an ICC event, this might have been understandable, for there is often the feeling that the ICC sets down rules and regulations in an arbitrary fashion without consulting the relevant stakeholders.

In the case of the IPL, you rarely hear a discordant note because everyone is in the game for profit, and decisions usually stand to benefit all groups – team owners, players, officials, even the media – either directly or indirectly. When the tournament moved to South Africa, there was a significant escalation in organisational costs (accommodation, conveyance, inter-city travel, etc) and the IPL was quick to announce that it would make up the difference to the eight franchisees.

In order to do that the IPL needed to leave no stone unturned in their quest to raise extra money. Had they admitted this was the case, and transparently sold the extra advertising spots created by the strategy breaks, there might have been some sympathy. After all, the Indian public’s response seems to suggest that they do want the IPL to go on, no matter what, and the strategy break, just like the shift of venue to South Africa, might have been tolerated.

Instead, Modi claimed the breaks were in place to “speed up the game” which was slowed down in the first year by “players going back and forth with messages and there was a lot of strategy being decided from time to time”. The public laughed at a break in play when a dog ran onto the field at Cape Town on the first day; they suffered the rain break at the same venue on Sunday. But “strategically” being forced to watch adverts? Even Modi will find it hard to sell this theory.