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A dose of self-control
by Partab Ramchand
Feb 20, 2007
The countdown has started in real earnest. Just three weeks to go before the World Cup unfolds in the Caribbean and everyone associated with the game in India in some way or the other – from players to marketing men, from journalists to the man in the street who follows cricket with religious fervour – can’t wait for the action to start.

The hype that surrounds the Indian team is as usual in full flow and will reach a frenzied state during the tournament. The mega event is bound to generate tremendous excitement despite the odd hours in India when the matches will be played. With the games scheduled to start around 7 pm and go on till 3 am or thereabouts, countless millions will automatically lose sleep and then they will lose further sleep whenever the Indian campaign goes through fits and starts.

It wasn’t always like this. I well remember the inaugural World Cup in England in 1975 which was no doubt followed with great interest. But limited overs cricket was still in its infancy and had not yet caught the public imagination in India. Test cricket was still the big draw. There was hardly any hype in the media which then consisted of only newspapers, magazines and radio. It was expected that the Indian team with some luck would reach the semifinal placed as it was in the weaker group along with England, New Zealand and East Africa. But the Indians having just played two one day internationals against England in 1974 had still to come to terms with its intricacies and losing to New Zealand in the crunch game they were eliminated at the group stage.

Four years later there was no change in the scenario except that India lost all three matches in the group going down to a shock defeat to Sri Lanka, then only an associate member. By 1979 the Indians had played in a few more matches in New Zealand and Pakistan but the country itself had not yet staged its first ODI. This came about only in November 1981 against England.

By 1983 things had changed a bit in the sense that the Indians after playing many more matches in the interim period in Australia, New Zealand, India, England, Pakistan and West Indies had gained valuable experience. But no one gave them a ghost of chance in the third World Cup and they were rated 66 to one outsiders. There was still no media hype though television (read Doordarshan) by now had created quite an impact.

The unexpected triumph of Kapil Devil’s however started a revolution in various fields. The players had climbed cricket’s Mount Everest and now bigger things were expected from them, the marketing men saw the game as an ideal publicity promotional campaign and the millions of followers now perceived much excitement in the shorter version of the game. The cricketers always super stars now became prima donnas. One day cricket had swept the nation and Test cricket had been swept aside.

The hype really got into overdrive when the World Cup was staged for the first time on the sub continent in 1987. India were the defending champions, were listed as one of the favourites and the media and the marketing strategists went overboard. Everywhere one went they were reminded that the World Cup was round the corner or the World Cup was on in the sub continent. And for the last 20 years the hype surrounding the Indian team has increased manifold what with cable television joining the rat race, there being many more newspapers and magazines and now there are any number of cricket websites.

Marketing strategies have taken on a new dimension and a cricket crazy nation goes out of control particularly during an India – Pakistan match in the World Cup. On the eve of the 1999 World Cup for example a national news magazine ran a cover story entitled ``11 reasons why India will win the World Cup.’’ This kind of lop sided coverage can do more harm than good and the adverse effect it has had on the team thanks to unreasonably high expectations has meant that the Indians have not been able to perform up to their potential. Despite making the semifinals twice and the final once there is little doubt that overall disappointments have been in order through the last five competitions.

Perhaps another one is round the corner in the Caribbean but will our frenzied followers ever learn and adopt a bit of self control in all aspects?
 
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