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India's tour of England started recently, but I no longer have the urge to tune into my television set to catch the action live. In fact, I no longer even feel the need to read the newspaper to catch the scores. Somehow my interest in cricket has died a natural death. I guess it's something that has happened over a period of time and has been accelerated by certain factors.
One of the factors is, of course, India's dismal World Cup 2007 performance which is still fresh in memory. It acted as a catalyst in the process to be sure, but my disillusionment started way before that; in fact, quite some years ago. A lot of it can be attributed to the blatant commercialization of the game, compounded by India's pathetic performances in major tournaments over a decade and a half now.
The most disgusting development recently has been ESPN-Star's cynical, opportunistic move of starting a new "Star Cricket" channel, dedicated to 24x7 cricket coverage (hmm... does that sound familiar?) and the way they have effectively exploited the interest generated by India's England tour to charge viewers extra to watch India play overseas. People like me who have shelled out money to subscribe to ESPN and Star Sports (by their promise of Live cricket coverage) feel cheated and betrayed by the one Sports Network that offered professional coverage with a clear focus on the game, rather than hype and glamour. ESPN's move to fragment their audience in order to generate easy revenue is just a sad commentary on the current state of affairs where a genuine cricket fan needs to be subscribed to 6 or 7 Sports networks just to catch Indian cricket action in different parts of the world. For a long time ESPN-Star had the reputation of being a respectable and committed sports channel - standing apart from the blatantly opportunistic fly-by-night operators, but with this move they have completely ruined any goodwill or brand equity they might have generated over the years.
But take a look at what has been happening to Indian cricket in general over the years. When the advertisers started ruling the airwaves and channels felt the need to cut out parts of the cricket action to squeeze in more ads, when the BCCI started playing ugly battles with the television networks over telecast rights and the courts had to intervene on behalf of the hapless viewers, when insignificant television networks started winning the TV rights war and decided to go "pay" overnight in order to rob genuine cricket fans of live cricket and make money as quickly as possible, when cricketers started spending more time in ad studios rather than on the cricket field and when match-fixing scandals started getting quietly swept under the carpet in order to protect vested interests, I cannot say that this latest move by ESPN star comes as a surprise. In fact, it's in keeping with the order of things.
I am not really annoyed or distressed at this state of affairs as I used to be some time ago. It's more like a gradual, growing indifference rather than real anger. It is this kind of indifference among cricket fans that will really be dangerous to the game of cricket in the forseeable future. There will always be dedicated fans, of course, but I think that over a period of time, most Indians will see cricket merely as a shamelessly commercialized, excessively hyped professional sport and not elevate it to the level of a religion.
Posted on Fri, Jul 20, 2007 at 10:27 IST (last updated: Sun, May 24, 2009 @ 19:17 IST)