The air was so thick and heavy with legalese, given officialdom’s internal strife, with torrents of counter-points coming hot on the heels of fusillades of points, that few people might actually have noticed a major telecom behemoth’s recent ditching of cricket.
It simply said it wouldn’t sponsor the India-West Indies Test series. And stood pat.
Days later, we came to know it was embracing football, lending its name to the I-League. Yours truly needed to speak to someone with a foot in either camp but the Maidan man – a big club-insider and a fringe figure in an Indian Premier League franchise – erupted like a volcano, describing one’s easily imaginable query, in IPL-class phraseology, too trivial for him to waste his time on. "Anything but" was the conclusion one arrived immediately at, and inquiries elsewhere in the country turned out to be most instructive.
Cricket, it was said by people in the know of things, was at long last putting its long-time benefactors off it by being muck-smeared, all over. So much has happened over such a length of time not everyone is tickled pink.
The stalwarts feuded, accusing each other of horrible perfidies, and the filth stuck to the institution, furthering eroding its credibility. Equally vulnerable was the game.
But you don’t blurt these things out; you say it with your chequebook. Official statements, in fact, might only serve to reinforce the long-held belief that the gift of speech is given to man to hide his thoughts.
So, are cricket’s days of commercial navel-gazing over? "No," is the answer, from industry-watchers, "Not yet. But it isn’t really a bit of all right when money-givers back away. And additionally, there are problems today it mightn’t have budgeted for when its business grew and grew, making India the game’s El Dorado.
Cricket isn’t about touching someone for a fiver. It wrings astronomical, often irrational sums of money by our standards. And, having thus been set back, a sponsor finds himself sharing the market’s attention with so many others, with victory podium backgrounds squeezing all of them in.
Exclusivity remains elusive as competing brands gather around shows packaging the same bat-and-ball game. Domestic football apart, would-be sponsors’ options are now widened by badminton, hockey and several other disciplines.
What helps cricket is that we win in it very often, especially at home.
But a Saina Nehwal or a medal-winning wrestler or Grand Slam doubles-winning tennis players arouse national aspirations in the same way."
And it will, of course, help if victories and achievements aren’t said from time to time to be make-believe.