Lay spectators' occasional notes on cricket

Sunday, 3 November 2013

One-day Hot Rod

"Viewer interest ratings" have always been a mystery to me even though this phrase, or its variants, are commonly heard. Especially with respect to passive entertainment methods we frequently adopt. The phrase has never governed anything more important than entertainment in my life. Watching one day cricket is also a form of entertainment for me. And "viewer interest/interest rating" rules here. It changes the game. But if you ask me what this actually is, I wouldn't be able to explain it. Nobody ever sought my opinion even though I've been a diligent viewer ever since matches were telecast in India by Doordarshan first and clutch of private channels later. Once in a while, I'm at the ground to watch an ODI live. Seriously, I have been to watch at grounds when I could and hope to catch up with that sport after my retirement from responsibilities. That is if one-day cricket remains.

One day cricket was gradually becoming a vintage classic model. Given the amount of social media activity over each and every one-dayer played from Timbuktoo all the way around back to Timbuktoo, I'd imagine there are plenty of people around the world hooked to the game. Of course the British tend not to watch other people play - they only comment in their inimitable manner. While the matches are in progress too. But they don't watch. Anyway, returning to the vintage classic analogy: one-day cricket has been repaired from time to time. Small patches applied here and there. Ghastly additions have been removed. In good haste too, I might add. The "one substitute rule" springs to mind immediately. Then all of a sudden One-day cricket disappears. Into a chop-shop. The vintage 70s beauty is a victim of poor viewership. Or so we are told. The struts need to be cut and the classic lowered. Closer to the floor. The temperamental engine needs to be replaced by a state-of-the-art energy-guzzling dynamo with sucks upon nitro now and then. We are told, we like to see flames bursting out from the rear of this gentle classic. They have a 20 over dragster already, but ICC wants to put the classic body on a different chassis and engine and race on the same tracks as the dragsters. We are told, we the viewers, prefer it so. I'm sure there is a survey of our preferences tucked deep somewhere. Not in my memory though.

And thanks to this phrase put out by ICC and various media organs drumming for a new talking point (and the one likely to accrue after - push for one and get another additional talking point or two free philosophy of their investment in such matters), ODI cricket was rolled into the chop shop and worked upon. Two balls instead of one lowered the classic to a fixed dimension. The cushion and clearance provided by spinners and leaves of part-timers was done away with to a hard, fixed, low slung option of Yorkers. Nothing else would do. Nothing else can recapture that dwindling "viewer interest rating" as much as a low slung Yorker. That's what we are told. Shoulders be damned. Burnouts can go to hell. This is a mean race we are told. Risk of injuries are the tonic of the bold. The soft cushion springs of spinners and part-timers are for sissies. These hot rods are meant to be burnt out fast.

Then the chop-shop bunged in a shiny engine with a huge tank of nitro. They pushed the fifth fielder inside the ring so pistons could flay at will and get those revs going. Burn the octane and forget the rest. Let the pollution of air be damned. Sixes are meant to hang in the air and precipitate from there. We are told we like to see that. We are told that hot-rodding is the only entertainment we like.

Then bung in a patta track for these awkward looking hot-rodded classics to rocket across. Not over a 20 over dash but over 50 miles of overs in two rounds. That's 100 miles of them. We are told we like to watch this awkwardness. We are told we like to watch the blow-outs that happen over these 100 overs.

Perhaps we do. Because we can sneer at a bowler now. We can more easily than before. We can howl at him from our haunches all the obscenities we can excrete in the guise of wit. Twitter and stuff like that is hooked to broadcast. That's more entertaining than cricket. The one who howls out from his haunches is an instant star. A bigger one than the poor fellow who toiled hard growing up to play for his country. Since this is a viewer-driven system as we are told, perhaps all this is right. Perhaps.

There is simply no need to make ODIs look like two-and-a-half innings each of T20. That's about the stupidest logic if ever there was one. T20 is relished for what it is because one expects that difference. ODIs are relished for what they are. It is unlikely the T20 crowds will ever come to ODIs since it isn't a 3-hour late night bangabout in the first place and will never be. Even if they do, there still will be empty seats as we saw in Bengaluru last night during the finale. Plenty of poor viewer ratings shouted out by those empty seats, if you ask me. If social media is any kind of standard, didn't see a commensurate increase in viewership. The cricket addicts from before the rule changes were all there...can't say if there were any new ones...if at all, there may have been withdrawals.

The punch-drunkenness caused by two-and-a-half T20 matches rolled into one ODI can finally kill ODIs. Not rescue it. If ODIs need rescuing at all that is. Maybe killing ODIs is what everybody wants. Including ICC. Trash the classics on hot-rod tracks a few final times and get rid of them forever.

Get rid of the fifth fielder rule at least. Let ODIs be a test of something different from T20. Meanwhile bowlers must adapt. Till the stupid rule is shelved. Teams who do so quickly will be kings for a brief while. Till their assets are burnt out. But these assets are not ICC's. No sir, players are not assets of the International Cricket Council. They're just stuff to be hot-rodded and raced. So why care? Bung in viewer ratings into our face.

Soulberry
New Delhi, India

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