The latest edition of the Wisden Cricket Almanack makes a plea to world cricket that needs to be made,Test cricket needs to be strengthened and nurtured,but interestingly continues to look at India through a more western work ethic and sensibility. Im delighted with the theme that the editor Lawrence Booth,one of the cricket worlds finest young journalists,uses: India,your sport needs you, for the market leader must lay down the priorities. But Lawrence,I fear,wants India to show the way in a manner that England might. But more of that by and by.
Clearly India has to play the role of the statesman in nurturing product quality but it is just as true in the corporate world that market leaders place great emphasis on profitability. The great institutions of the world are able to find the right mix; their product quality doesnt drop,neither do their margins. In sport,you can translate that as having very high W/L and P/L ratios; winning more matches than you lose and making a lot of money while doing so. (The idea of making money should eventually be to nurture and strengthen the sport but this is only a small article). And as I have often argued,the P/L ratio seems to be valued far more than the W/L ratio in India.
Inevitably when we talk of nurturing,we talk about Test cricket. It bothers me a little bit that to some,anything other than Test cricket is an abomination,is unworthy of existence and must necessarily be looked down in the manner other castes were in the old caste system; that Test cricket must be the Brahmin,T20 the Shudra and 50-over cricket really anywhere in between.
For Test cricket to remain the mightiest form of the game,it must become self-sufficient,it cannot be on the dole from T20,or 50-over cricket,and yet despise it. For that to happen,it must establish a commercial connect with the follower. For art and wine to survive,there must be enough people buying art and wine,there must be a commercial involvement between the producer and the consumer. Apart from England and,to a lesser extent,Australia,I am not sure that kind of involvement exists. All of us love Test cricket dearly,weve even had an excellent Test match this week in Barbados,but we do not buy a ticket to go to the ground or watch it on television thereby allowing channels to sell advertising on it or buy merchandise. We follow the match on the internet,blog about it,tweet and write essays but neither of these makes it financially stronger.
England is a bit different because it is the last real bastion of Test cricket and that is where Lawrence,and other passionate lovers of the game,gets his dna from. England has this amazing structure where people pay unbelievable prices to watch Tests and buy enough decoders from Sky to enable fewer commercials to be aired. Television in England is a subscription-driven model,people pay to watch what they like.
Its different in the subcontinent. Maybe because of the greater need to merely exist,we are very price-conscious; we do not mind putting up with things as long as they dont cost too much. Hence the unbelievable amount of advertising on television. But also,our entertainment is escapist,most visibly manifest in our cinema (also now the staple of opening ceremonies at cricket tournaments) which is loud,ostentatious and generally,a spectacle. T20 cricket,while possessed of its own skills,most closely approximates that.
India and China are not just emerging consumer powers,they are also cultures that are completely different from the rather more homogeneous American and European cultures. As India needs to understand its larger role in world matters (for the purposes of this article,read world cricket) so too does the rest of the world need to understand that another vibrant,but deeply different culture exists. Neither can weigh each other in the scale it weighs itself in.
Eventually,Test cricket will survive but,I fear,not on its own. T20 will be the inducement,it will draw in many more consumers and the challenge will then be to retain them and hope they enjoy the many wonderful flavours of Test cricket. But within the larger world of cricket,every country must lay down its priorities. Indias choices may not please everybody but then each must create their own commercial ecosystem.
The bigger challenge in world cricket is not whether Test cricket must be played or T20,it is whether or not everyone can understand the different cultures within our tiny world.
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