The Myth called ‘Too Much Cricket’

24 Feb,2023



By Shailesh Kapoor


Shailesh KapoorThose of my vintage often lament that ‘These days, there’s too much cricket happening all the time’. Factually, this is indeed true. The Indian national team played about 75 days of international cricket in 2022. Add the IPL to it, and they were on field for almost 100 days in the year. And this was a year whose early part was impacted by the pandemic.


The average number of Test matches played by India was seven per year in the 90s. It went up to 10 per year in the decade 2000-2009, and has since then averaged at 13 per year, excluding the pandemic-impacted months. Not all Test matches last the full distance, or the number of playing days would be even higher. But a typical Indian cricketer is on tour for almost 150 days in a year, not counting the training camps that precede these tours or home series.


From a viewer perspective, there is all of this, plus key non-India matches, like those in a World Cup, to watch. Women’s cricket is on the rise too, and WPL is round the corner. It means potentially about 150 days of relevant cricket being telecast live every year. And this does not include non-India bilateral series, like the Ashes.


I don’t know another sport that has so much going on round the year. Yet, there is no sign of cricket fatigue. Viewership numbers have not dropped in recent years, and a new generation of young Indians seem to have taken to T20 cricket, especially IPL, quite well. With no other sport on the ascendancy, cricket is set to dominate the Indian media landscape for another decade at least.


It’s no secret, though, that cricket is not the most profitable investment for linear television or streaming broadcasters. The licensing rates keep going up every year, and yet, the strategic power the sport wields in India is significant enough to keep the broadcasters and the streamers interested.


We have been a single-sport country for long. But cricket has gone on to take an even more prestigious position: It is literally the only marquee media category India has today. No national GEC show (fiction or reality) or movie airing can match the impact of good cricket series, or a key event like a tournament knockout game. Everything else is getting increasingly fragmented, even as viewership continues to consolidate around cricket. Even election coverage is losing steam in recent years, except a short block of 4-6 hours on result days.


Interestingly, there is very little ancillary programming around cricket that has managed to cut through. Live cricket continues to grow in its appeal, but packaged content is largely limited to free platforms like YouTube. The communal impact of live cricket, which is at the heart of its popularity in India, is difficult to replicate in cricket game shows, chat shows or analysis. Broadcasters have tried this for years, but unsuccessfully. These properties now exist only because some sponsors are willing to pay to be on them, coming as they do at lesser price points than the live game.


With large-scale technology-led changes and changes in audience behaviour, all else in the Indian media landscape will evolve over the coming decade. But the sport of cricket will stand tall, invincible.


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