When India won ICC World T20 in 2007, it was a format of the game that had intrigued the Indian fans. BCCI’s reluctance to embrace it for three years since its birth had ensured that by the time the World T20 came around the corner, India had played only one T20I. The fans were enthralled and surprised in equal measures by the win in a tournament which had been given a miss by the otherwise crowd-pulling legends in Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid.
This concoction of an exciting new format, a young team led by that long-haired but calm-looking captain and a ‘World Cup’ win after 24 years had sent the crowds in frenzy. And when the unauthorised Indian Cricket League was born out of the growing frustration over BCCI’s denial of TV rights, the board had had no option but to jump in the bandwagon.
The IPL was thus an offshoot of all of the above while its success over the ensuing three seasons germinated from aggressive marketing tactics used on fans eager to lap up anything remotely connected to cricket. It was a formula that its self-proclaimed inventor Lalit Modi was adept at and used it at will.
Almost four years on, the Indians have won again. This time, it is a bigger World Cup and as the proponents of the ODI format and the connoisseurs of the game would point out, at a better stage than before.
The euphoria then that has engulfed the nation is anything but believable. It was not that the Indian team had not gone into the tournament as favourites. The issue, to some in fact, was that the side were favourites to lift the trophy – a tag that has been associated with them by either the enthusiastic fans or the over-zealous media or the sponsors wanting to ride the much-hyped wave leading up to all editions of the World Cup since 1983. And barring the one in 2003 when India got to the final, disappointment has loomed large for the aforementioned stakeholders.
Not this time. The team had genuinely looked good before the tournament, stumbled in the middle but recovered quickly without falling and went on stir up a gamut of emotions amongst the Indians around the world. Patriotism was a definite theme. In some extreme cases, it was jingoism.
The World T20 win in 2007 was different in two aspects. One, there was excitement generated by the win but it was shared with the fans’ sudden interest in this behemoth called T20. And secondly, the build-up to the Indian Premier League was almost six months long, which not only stoked interest in the fans but also allowed the buzz from the World T20 triumph to die down. It had allowed the fans to recharge their own batteries.
The World Cup has been anything but an untiring one for the fans. It was not as long as the previous one, but lasted 40 days and for the amount that the average Indian fan went through, the pendulum swung between exhausting and frenzied for them. While travelling for the quarter-final game between India and Australia, this writer came across a compartment full of fans expected to spend 15 hours in train journeys and another four in the queues to watch an eight-hour long contest. One can be reasonably sure that this wasn’t a one-off.
The batteries will have only five days of recharge before they get bombarded by the cricket of a different kind – cricket that thrives on inter-regional rivalry. It will be an antithesis of the very apparent patriotism that the World Cup-winning frenzy has generated amongst the fans of the game.
The Indian fans’ appetite for cricket consumption would probably give David Boon’s beer guzzling spree a run for his money. However, the IPL will be shorn of the marketing-savy Modi and in a backdrop of this Halley’s-comet like phenomenon by the name of a national World Cup win, fan exhaustion and with the IPL having yet to touch a cord like its soccer version, EPL has, life could get challenging for both, the board and the broadcaster alike.
The next seven weeks could answer many questions and if you are a marketing man, this could be as much your time to bask in glory as it will be that for the players. The legacy of the World Cup win may well turn out to be an obstacle not a crowd-pulling magnet.