Indian Cricket on a Sticky Wicket?

21 Jan,2022

 

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

Shailesh KapoorCricket is an expensive sport from a media perspective, even a minor loss in fan base can be a source of concern. Broadcasters have to shell out more for cricket rights with each passing year, and ad

 

January 2022 has been the most unpleasant month for Indian men’s cricket team in many years. The team lost two Test matches and one ODI in South Africa, all from winnable positions. The remaining two ODIs may put that streak to an end, but it’s been a poor start to the year on all accounts. Even more so because of the unexpected decision by Virat Kohli to quit the Test captaincy.

 

Cricket is by far the most popular sport in India. In our soon-to-be-released report on the sports category, the estimated number of cricket fans in India are almost three times the No 2 sport on the list. The consistency in the Indian team’s performance has managed to keep the sport relevant, especially to the younger audience. However, it now seems that the purple patch is over. The ICC recently announced its World XIs for 2021, and no Indian makes it to the ODI or the T20 teams.

 

There’s, of course, the IPL to ensure that cricket remains exciting and relevant. In the report mentioned above, IPL emerged as having a stronger following than all forms of nation vs. nation cricket, including T20s.

 

MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli have been the two icons around which the sport, even IPL, has been built over the last decade. The former has retired, and the latter, we know by now, can come up with surprise career decisions without any prior notice. Except Rishabh Pant and Jasprit Bumrah, there are no younger stars who carry an aura around them. And despite all the talent that the IPL unravels, the batting middle order is the weakest in the last 30 years.

 

The Indian cricket team last saw an extended lean patch in the 90s, when they were winning very little overseas. But there was one Sachin Tendulkar then to keep the interest in the sport alive. And there was no competition from other sports, such as kabaddi or football either. We are in a different era today, and a lean patch, if it comes, may be trickier to dodge. Football is a younger sport in India than cricket, and it can make significant inroads as a result.

 

It’s not to say that cricket runs any risk of losing its no. 1 status in what is still a one-sport nation. That’s not happening in our lifetime. But because cricket is an expensive sport from a media perspective, even a minor loss in fan base can be a source of concern. Broadcasters have to shell out more for cricket rights with each passing year, and advertising on cricket is becoming increasingly unaffordable for many brands. This commercial model, which is driven by IPL at its heart, did not exist in the 1990s and the 2000s, when the team used to win some and lose some. This model is based on the implicit foundation that India generally wins. But what if that is not true from 2022?

 

As a fan, I hope it doesn’t come to that. But if it does, a lot of calculations may go awry.

 

 

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