For the beleaguered Election Commission, the Kolkata traffic police, the statisticians, counsellors and historians, Anglophiles and sociologists cricket has provided enough grist, to mull over, chew and predigest and recount to their grandchildren. More than the Thousand Nights and Decameron this game has furnished them ample raw material.
This is quite evident, as the recent Indian Premier League series has witnessed a significant jump in viewership, according to the IPL’s official broadcast partner, Star India citing BARC PreView data. The service allows subscribers to access the data of a specific event or show three days after the telecast.
According to Star India, viewership reached 219 million, including urban and rural, television and out of home, for the first three matches, registering a 31% jump from the previous year. The Hindi speaking markets (HSM) grew by 30% to 79 million on the opening day, compared to 60 million a year ago, while in the South the reach was up by 20%.
‘ We are particularly excited because IPL 2019 has already crossed the viewership numbers we did last year at the beginning of the tournament. The investments this year including a customised family feed on Star Gold, regional sports channels launch and strong marketing campaign has worked’, said the Star Sports chief executive. Encouraged, the network plans to telecast on its recently launched Star Sports Bangla along with Tamil and the more recently launched Kannada and Telugu channels.
‘The localization strategy is working well,’ said their chief strategist. ‘This could be our biggest IPL ever because 2018 was our first year and has helped learn valuable lessons.’
Most impressed by the data was the Election Commission of India that it has approached the Board of Control of Cricket in India to avail of its platform to spread voter awareness for the Lok Sabha elections. They have suggested that cricket players be roped in to deliver motivational messages in their speeches and the cheer leaders in scanty clothes wear ECI merchandise while doing their jigs whenever a six is hit.
The senior deputy election commissioner did not forget to thank the BCCI’s Chief Executive officer for providing sound bites of cricketers on voter awareness. ‘It is requested that appropriate opportunity be provided to the state where matches are being held, and to optimally utilise non-sponsored space to disseminate voter education messages. States have also been asked to identify volunteers who shall be cheer leaders and wear ECI merchandise and hold voter awareness placards.’ For good measure he has also suggested that scoreboards display voter education messages and sent in an eight-point wish list that includes motivational messages, taglines by cricketers, their speeches after winning or while receiving prizes and placing ECI merchandise like mugs and coasters in the commentary boxes, with messages for voting in a free, fair and ethical manner. Arrangements for this have already been made at the Delhi stadium where they play a match at the end of the month.
If the Election Commission found such rich potential that could be tapped, for the Kolkata traffic cops another recent incident on the cricket field has come as a godsend. This was a controversy involving R Ashwin and Jose Buttler, Mankading, a term that is India’s unique contribution to the game’s lexicon. This was the incident where Ashwin ran out the English batsman at the non-striking end and it did create a controversy over whether it was a sporting move or he was sticking to the strict rules. Technically if you step out of the line and you are liable to be run out.
The controversial dismissal of Butler had polarised the cricket world, with some fans and veteran players describing Ashwin’s action as unsporting and that it is not in keeping with the glorious game of cricket, with the others defending it as legitimate manner of ‘playing the game according to the spirit of the game’, as Nehru famously said. Another Ashwin had Mankaded a Sri Lankan batsman after warning him and the captain Sehwag decided against the dismissal some ten years ago. Joe Buttler is not new to controversy either, having been Mankaded earlier. The term came into vogue after the legendary Vinoo Mankad dismissed Australian batsman Bill Brown twice, once after a warm-up match and then in the Test. While the local media criticised the action and coined the term, the legendary Sir Don Bradman backed Mankad and wrote in his memoir that ‘for the life of me I can’t understand why they questioned his sportsmanship. The laws of cricket make it clear that the non-striker must keep within his ground until the ball has been delivered; If not why have that provision at all?'
The MCC did approve of Ashwin’s action but in a U-turn after three days questioned the spirit of the decision. This controversy continued for a week and was allowed to fissile out but not before another issue held the centre-stage. However Ashwin’s action is the message that the police in Kolkata are trying to employ to check deviant drivers. And this seems to have worked. ‘Be it the crease or the road, one should never cross it before they are supposed to’ is the cryptic message. A top official who surely is a cricket fan, explains it thus, ‘Social media has always been an effective tool for us to create awareness about various issues. And more than straight signs these creative memes help us reach the people faster and leave a better impact.' The Mumbai police have also issued some traffic rules along these lines that seem to have been effective in conveying the message.
Before Mankading became the talking point for over a week, with opinions equally divided and brought about a national and even international level crisis, there was the other critical issue of No 4 batsman. For the uninitiated, this is the pivotal position, the game changer and this is the fulcrum some of the most illustrious stars have occupied, Sachin Tendulkar, for instance. The iconic status of this Bharat Ratna, the only sportsman to have been so honoured, and Rajya Sabha member has never been in doubt. The No 4 must have a wide range of skills, a compact defence, the ability to hit the ball hard, and he must be able to rotate the strike. In short a multi-tasker who can keep the scoreboard ticking, like the air traffic controller at airports.
With even the poll panel and the cops who control the chaotic traffic in Kolkata are all so eager to tap the potential that this game affords, is it any wonder it has seeped into the unconsciousness of the Indian psyche. recently in the midst of a Hindustani concert when the tabla had to be tightened, the singer halted midway, and commented that this was like Shane Warne bowling outside the off stump, to appreciative clapping from the rasikas. That is the reach of the game.