Thursday, June 19, 2008

Referrals for advertising

As we all know, pressure can do different things to different people. For some, it brings out the best. The ability to come good when the chips are down is what separates them from the boys. And then there are those that will say so much pressure, they can do without. Performance anxiety can result in fear; not the most ideal state of mind for a cricket umpire to be in. In fact, too much pressure can destroy a perfectly good umpire; not what you want in a time when good umpires are in acute short supply. In such a time of strife arrives the system of ‘demanded referrals’, as one might be tempted to call it.

When the on-field umpires were first allowed to use technology to help them arrive at the right decision it was, like everything new, criticized. Over time, it has proven to be a step in the right direction. But can the cons associated with a system which allows players to blatantly question the verdict of the on-field official be waved away as easily?

Proponents of the method of ‘demanded referrals’ will trot out the oft-heard argument that this will ensure – more frequently than otherwise – the right decision is taken. Be that as it may (or not), in a time when players are already displaying a remarkable lack of decent regard for the on-field umpires, is it desirable to give them additional tools to behave impertinently?

Since the jury is not entirely out on whether dismissal technology is a better judge of decisions other than the basic run out and stumping, we won’t – at least, for the purposes of this article – debate the possibility that referrals will result in a lower percentage of umpiring errors because, ironically, they will only be used to decide cases that are already hard for anyone other than the men on the field to judge. Which begs the question, how much sense does it make to depend on a system that has so far proven to be, at the most, a questionable arbiter?

In the USA, sport is custom-designed for commercial use. In particular, American football, basketball and baseball – with their stop-start rhythms – share a symbiotic relationship with their sponsors. It is a model of development cricket swiftly adopted from the time Jagmohan Dalmiya and IS Bindra took charge of the BCCI in the early 90s.

After the successful telecast of the 1992 world cup held in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, cricket has – with much help from the Indian consumer and the Board – become an incessant ‘brandwagon’ for advertisers. With a profusion of regularly timed breaks, it has proved to be the perfect format for sponsors looking to deliver a constant diet of commercial messages – interspersed with cricket – to hungry audiences across the Indian Subcontinent. If anyone, it’s these vested interests that are likely to benefit most from the breaks in play this new rule is certain to bring.

Violent agitations will erupt between cricket fans around chowks and living rooms across the world over anything remotely contentious in the world of cricket. But there’s one thing they won’t dispute: that there’s an unacceptably high volume of advertising during a cricket match. Sadly, this is something the system of ‘demanded referrals’ is only going to exacerbate.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

If you do drugs, do it the Indian way

There have been many well-known instances of cricketers from around the world getting caught with drugs. Oddly enough, all the players involved were from parts of the cricket world not including India. Which begs the question: What is it about Indian cricketers that immunizes them from the undeniable pull of recreational drugs?

On the face of it, it might seem like Indian cricketers are more responsible than their foreign counterparts? Not. If you consider the way they play, when it comes to shot selection and hare-brained decision-making on the cricket field, Indian cricketers are up there with the best of the worst. Let alone jog, you don’t even have to walk yourself down memory to come up with innumerable instances of Indian cricketers gifting away the match to the opposition on the back of something silly and uncalled for. The most recent case in point being … well … umm … heh, there aren’t that many that come to mind right away, but that doesn’t mean Indian players behave all that grown up on the cricket field. (Just Ask Mukul Kesevan, who has devoted an essay in his very engaging ‘Men in white’ to the kind of ‘boy’ he thinks an Indian cricketer is.)

Books, theories and past records apart, it would take a very brave fan to consistently bet on the chances of an Indian team closing out matches with the kind of assurance and certainty we’ve come to expect from say, the Australians. And yet, these very same, responsible, dependable, rock-solid Australian cricketers have been hauled up for immature, irresponsible and indulgent acts of drug abuse. Not – as one might have expected – irresponsible, immature and indulgent Indian cricketers.

Perhaps the social milieu that Indian cricketers come from makes them well aware of the prudish hostility with which drug ‘toking’ is viewed in ‘upwardly mobile’ country that is today India. Make no mistake, Indian cricketers will proudly abuse prescribed drugs like music, movies, liquor, clothes, credit cards, cars, women and the like. But you can bet your last rupee they won’t be seen with recreational drugs of the taboo kind. At least, not until they are legalized. After that, all bets are off.

More so than in other cricket playing countries, a star Indian cricketer caught with drugs stands to lose too much. Because in India, more than in most other societies around the world, being successful is very important. Being seen doing the right thing is very desired. (In fact, sometimes even more important than doing the right thing.) In 21st century India, making pots of money and leading the good life – which cricketers most certainly do – is a widespread obsession. Understandably so. Indians, and many Indian cricketers, have been poor for too long.

Get caught with drugs and you stand to lose all the things that make you a shining symbol of modern India. Pot smoking and company can very swiftly send you back to experience the India that cricket helped you so swiftly transcend. Much like their countrymen, Indian cricketers … no, make that Indian cricket families are too shrewd, sneaky, ambitious, careful, materialistic, forward thinking and priggish to risk so much that’s real for something as ephemeral as a THC high.

Besides, to paraphrase a Hindi saying, ‘what will people say?’ All this to say if you’re going to do something the people will vehemently, irrationally and thoughtlessly oppose, whatever you do, don't get snagged doing it. That’s the way things that ‘can’t be done’ are done in India.