Eight years ago, insight and clever marketing gave the world Twenty20. It was innovative, fresh, concise and appealing. There may not have been the confidence in what is called "the product", and hence the lure of girl bands and bouncy castles, but as a concept it worked brilliantly. Lord's was a sellout for a county game for the first time since the immediate postwar.
People wanted more, and they got it. But more games did not mean more people. The crowds became sparse and the cricket itself became humdrum with its over-familiarity and sameness.
T20 on the wane
You may think, then, that there was a lesson to be learned by the behemoth that is the IPL. It began in a spangle of money, glamour, promotion, parties and enthusiasm. Television audiences were vast. The formula worked. So they made it bigger. And this season, in its fourth incarnation, the gilt seems to be wearing off.
While the subcontinent staged a World Cup that resurrected 50-over cricket as a one-day game capable of delivering narrative and performances that linger in the mind, T20 is being exposed as the candyfloss that many suspected it may be: tasty in doses, but essentially with little substance.
It is just beyond halfway through this tournament, 44 matches at the time of writing, and scarcely a memorable one among them, few last-over thrillers, or tight run-chases. Even in the shortest form of the game, there seems to have been a predictability about matches from an early stage.
A glance down the results shows that 16 matches, more than a third, were decided by seven, eight or nine wickets, while only four were won by fewer than 10 runs and none closer than three wickets, of which there were only two instances. In short, the whole thing seem s to have gone flat.
The Indian public, or at least those who watch the games on television, are making their feelings known by switching off their sets. An ongoing survey of audiences for IPL-4 shows that viewing figures for the first 26 games were down by 22 per cent on the previous year and that those for the next 10 matches were down by a further five per cent.
Reasons for decline
Reasons for this decline are several. First comes the fact of India’s World Cup triumph. Then there is the question of the franchises themselves and the manner in which squads are picked at auction, so that most players may change teams from one season to the next.
The third ought to be the most worrying, though, and it comes back to “cricket fatigue”, which in essence means that a quarter of those who followed IPL last year have had enough of it. It seems to me that those, beyond the owners, who pour their money into the enterprise — TV and sponsors — will not be impressed by ratings that have plummeted.