Shailesh Kapoor: T20 Cricket: India’s ‘Second Sport’?

29 Jan,2016

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

This Republic Day, India beat Australia in the first T20 International of the ongoing series. Earlier the same day, the Indian women beat the Aussies too, in a record run chase. Thus started a long season of T20 cricket for the Indian viewers; a season that will go all the way till May end, when the IPL concludes.

 

India finishes three T20s in Australia, then plays another three with Sri Lanka, followed by the T20 World Cup in India in March, and the IPL in April-May immediately after. More than 80 T20 matches will be aired this period, not counting the women’s T20 World Cup, which is also scheduled for March.

 

For those whose initiation into the sport of cricket was through Tests and ODIs, this may come across as a crazy cricket schedule, almost an off-putting one. But for a wide section of sub-25 audience, this is the cricket they enjoy seeing the most – the three-hour entertainment show, over the eight-hour or five-day drag.

 

I may have made this point in this column a couple of years ago, but it’s worth saying again that the sport a person (and by extension, a country) grows up to love is the sport he (or she) grows up to watch (and possibly play) when he’s a teenager. Typically, 12-17 years is the age band when the mind is most impressionable regarding the sporting taste of a typical urban Indian.

 

Times are changing, though. For many in the 12-17 age group, the “entertainment” that sports provided has been replaced by social options, loosely grouped under the generic category of activities (including the virtual ones) called “hanging out”. Hence, the challenge to engage them will continue to get tougher by the year.

 

In the pursuit to find the ‘second sport’ in India after cricket, broadcasters and sports marketers have launched every possible sporting league. Some of these leagues have done genuinely well, while others are merely projected media successes, despite low viewership and financial losses to most stakeholders. A dozen leagues later, India has not got any closer to finding that second sport.

 

But even as that effort continues, the sport of cricket is virtually getting split into two. Cricket 1 is the old cricket – Tests & ODIs – attracting a small section of 25+ male audience (40+ for Tests) and increasingly becoming a niche proposition, unless there’s a big event like the World Cup once in four years.

 

Cricket 2 is T20, be it nation vs. nation or leagues (IPL primarily, for now, for the Indian audiences). Cricket 2 is entertainment first and sports later. It’s more gender-inclusive for that reason. It targets 15-30 as its core constituency, though the national team playing T20 would tend to get Cricket 1 audiences into it too.

 

Year-on-year, the proportion of Cricket 2 audiences will grow, as the 15-30 year olds get older. A decade from now, Cricket 2 will address a much wider 15-40 audience, and be perhaps the only cricket that gets ratings.

 

To that extent, India seems to have found its second sport (or the new first sport, more appropriately). Call it Cricket 2, Call it T20, it’s a new sport alright. And its strength will be on display, all the way till end May this year.

 

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