Brain Lara’S decision to pack his bags (after the disappointing performances by Sachin, Inzamam and Vaughan) has set the seal on the World Cup — what was supposed to be a joyous cricket carnival has turned out to be a huge letdown, and that has ensured that the event would be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
This World Cup has been a disaster, and not just for India. The showpiece mela, handicapped by poor scheduling and a boring format, sank when India's challenge shifted from hoo ha to hai hai. With India's exit, the hawa went out of the balloon and people switched off, their disinterest heightened by a pathetic TV coverage, which had annoying advertisement breaks in the middle of an over. The Indian players got punched in the face in the first round.
Besides the temporary setback, in terms of reduced commercial powers, the long-term impact on the players is the loss of stature and respect.
Till yesterday, even a minor player was a national celebrity; today, ads of Sachin and Dravid, the megastars, have been yanked off the channels. Corporate India has learnt a harsh lesson — that it is unwise to invest large amounts of money on khiladis whose popularity can slump overnight.
Already, there are signs that corporate India is actively considering other options. Sunil Mittal, head of Bharti Communications, thinks cricket would yield market share in the future.
Speaking on behalf of the industry in a meeting with FIFA chief Sepp Blatter, Mittal saw huge potential in soccer.
That India has a world ranking of about 168 is a dampener, but if things improve and someone stirs the "sleeping football giant”, football could pose a serious challenge to cricket down the line.
Having said that, Indian cricket is still a valuable product, whose commercial clout flows from its enormous fan base.
It is this pool of potential customers that is targeted by corporates, who happily sign large cheques to associate with cricket.
But for this to continue, cricket has to remain on the people's radar, and the team and its top stars have to perform and deliver hits, not duds. The World Cup has failed and some stars have faded. But we don't want Indian cricket to get stumped the same way.