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Devangshu Datta: Cricketing nations of the future


Devangshu Datta  |  New Delhi 

On May 6, 1954, Dr Roger Bannister ran a mile in 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds. The current record (Hicham El Guerrouj, Rome 1999, 3:43.13) is much lower. Yet 53 years later, Bannister's mile still defines modern middle-distance running.
Another defining moment was 1982, when Pakistan thrashed India 7-1 in the Asian Games hockey final. The Indian squad was composed largely of players who had won an (admittedly devalued, because many top countries boycotted the Games) Olympic gold just two year before.
The Pakistanis' orchestrated interchanges of positions bewildered an Indian defence. It was blindingly obvious that Indian hockey had fallen a generation behind in its tactical understanding inside two short years. That gap has since widened. There have been many skilful Indian hockey players post-1982 but India has ceased to be taken seriously as a hockey-playing nation.
Did we see such a defining moment in India vs Bangladesh? To the backdrop of blue-clad hordes yowling "Ooh-AAH India!" a bunch of Bangladeshi kids outbowled, outfielded and outbatted the aforementioned nation. The Bengali teens knew more about the grammar of the modern game. They converted dots into singles, they attacked balls in the field""unlike the Indians.
The last 15 overs against Bermuda showed up deficiencies in even crueller light. The will to win seemed to slacken simply because due to lack of stamina. To give 100 per cent for 100 overs""that is the minimal level of athleticism required from a modern cricketer.
The debacle against Sri Lanka re-emphasised that India is a cricketing generation behind in its approach. The Lankans planned the batting better and they bowled and fielded with far more sense as well as heart.
At least five teams""Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand""are now a clear generation ahead in terms of understanding cricket. Skill is not the issue""skill plus brains will beat skill almost every time. Will the intellectual gap ever narrow? The example of hockey leaves me feeling less than optimistic. Twenty years later, just as in hockey, India could be a fringe cricket outfit.
The key difference is that cricket generates massive revenue""if the Indian team is doing well. The revenue is fragile if the Indian team does badly. That gives the BCCI both the resources and the motivation to nurture a renaissance.
A couple of ancillary benefits could accrue from the "Caribbean Collapso". If ad revenue is positively correlated to something as fickle as Sehwag's form, broadcasters may look to hedge their bets with pay-per-view (PPV) alternative models rather than bet their chuddies on ads.
That would be wonderful for people like me, who like non-mainstream events. PPV could bring the Copa Americana, non-Grand Slam tennis, quality movies and music videos to my screen.
PPV could also shelter me from advertising, which leaves me both bored and disgusted. Even the best ad palls if it's shown over a 100 times in seven hours. But it is truly an affliction to watch a whole bunch of people orgasmically grunting "Ooh-AAH India".
Don't get me wrong""I have nothing against loud patriotic orgasms. The Victorians exhorted their daughters to "lie back and think of England" as they bred children to dutifully administer the Empire. Maybe desh-bhakt Indians now need to do the equivalent. We need lots of kids to bring about the "demographic dividend". But I don't want to watch this on my screen even twice, let alone a hundred times. If the current revenue model loses money and PPV comes in, I would heave a sigh of relief and gladly pay a premium to be spared ads of this nature.
The other thing that could enhance my sports watching would be if I could legally log on to William Hill and Bettson and take spreads on the number of boundaries struck off Agarkar. But that'll never happen. The prohibition of sports betting has enabled a mafia as pernicious as the hooch dealers of Gujarat and more well-heeled. Illegal betting is a cash cow for too many vested interests. It will never be legalised.

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First Published: Sat, March 31 2007. 00:00 IST