Monday, October 29, 2007

Rest and recuperation for Rahul or is it RIP?

“If you rest you will rust” used to be the words of my Geography teacher in school. Sadly I did not listen to my teachers which explains my current state, but I was reminded of these words when I read about Rahul Dravid’s omission from the first two one dayers against Pakistan. Suddenly our selection committee has become a lot more professional or a lot more vindictive, take your pick. Yes, Rahul Dravid has been struggling both mentally and physically on the field. But the time is to support him now for all the wonderful things that he has done on the field for this country. Batting at every conceivable position, keeping wickets, putting up with a lot of nonsense from some of his colleagues, bearing the brunt of Saurav’s moodiness as captain when he was vice-captain. You name it, Rahul has done everything possible for a largely thankless country. He has batted more consistently than anyone else in India for years. He has put up with the aggression of McGrath, the wiles of Warne and the bounce of Flintoff with equal aplomb. It is the spitefulness of the board and the machinations of the selectors that he seems to have no answers for. The enemy, as always in our wonderful country lies within!

A bunch of jokers
Terry Jenner who probably achieved greater recognition as Shane Warne’s coach than as a player once called the selectors a “Bunch of jokers”. Looks like the ills of this breed are not restricted to our shores but this particular one is a shocker, and Kiran More I am sure who has his own agenda calls this decision to drop Dravid as a big joke. i am sure the former Indian captain would not have found this particular decision to drop him funny and yet one worries for the intense, committed individual that he is. One just hopes that he does not decide to hang up his cricketing boots in a hurry as he is just now facing the consequences of his decision to quit the captaincy.

Whither consistency?
Dileep Vengsarkar continues to shoot his mouth off about fielding ability and rotation policy and opportunity for youngsters depending on which television channel he is speaking to. Rahul Dravid is one of the best slip fielders we have ever had and has held crucial catches even in one day matches. It is only after he became captain that he moved to the outfield. Speaking of youngsters what about Badrinath and how come Sehwag returns to the team based on just one Champion’s trophy innings? If performance against Pakistan gives him the nod ahead of youngsters, then what is wrong with Dravid’s performance against the same team? Will the same consistency be followed with Sachin, Saurav and even Yuvaraj who more often than not flatters only to deceive should they fail? I am not sure. But what I am sure about is that the people who live in the Southern part of India are not violent unlike their counterparts from say the East of India .No effigies will be burnt, no processions will be taken out. After all we smiled even at Karunanidhi’s comments about Lord Rama! But Rahul Dravid needs support from all of us who love the game and for which game he has done so much in the recent past. He has won more matches for us than any other Indian batsman. He has just been unable to manage the administration. I somehow feel that this is part of a larger agenda to get him completely out of cricket. How on earth is he supposed to get his form back? Will it be the Ranji Trophy for God’s sake where no Indian international player ever plays!

Don’t give up
I think there is a lesson, albeit a sorry one, for Rahul Dravid and some others as well. It is suicidal to give up positions of authority in whichever part of the world you live in. Whether you are captain of the team, chief executive officer or even The Chairman of Selectors just do not throw in the towel too easily. There are people waiting in the wings with knives out. Whatever might have been Rahul Dravid’s reasons for quitting, and I too had a point of view on this which I spoke about in this very blog, he needs to learn from that. He lives in an unfair world and he is surrounded by people who all seem to have personal agendas which have no relation to the game’s well being. Rahul Dravid don’t get mad, just get even and for God’s sake hang in there.
(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO, brand-comm, and the author of One Land, One Billion Minds.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Looking back, looking forward

The Australians have gone back and it is time for us to take a break and actually do some thinking before the next frenetic cricket activity starts with our friendly cricketing neighbour Pakistan. Normally when the Australian cricket team leaves the shores of a nation the cricketing authorities and home supporters heave a sigh of relief as they leave the home team devastated. I remember this happened in South Africa and if my failing memory serves me right it was Graham Pollock who said that he was glad that the Australians were going back so much had the home team been defeated and deflated. This tour of India has not been so bad for the home team, for even if we lost the one day series 2-4 we won the twenty 20 game at Mumbai quite comfortably. The one day champions won their version and the twenty 20 version was won by the current world champions! What a fantastic feeling that is! Having said that one needs to have a proper sense of perspective about the tour and also think about the way ahead.

Favourable conditions and yet…
Most of the games were played in the recent tour in conditions that were probably neutralizing the Australian advantage of pace, nor did the wickets have too much bounce, though it did aid spin as at the Wankhede and yet we lost quite worryingly and we won by narrow margins at Wankhede and Chandigarh. Probably conditions might be a lot more challenging at Brisbane and at Melbourne and Hobart if not in Sydney. Even Sri Lanka, the other contestant in the Commonwealth Bank series will give us a run for our money. This impression was heightened when I saw us struggle at the Wankhede. Just throw in a Shaun Tait with Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson and I can imagine the tension that some of us are going to face at least watching, forget about our batsmen coping. I think the major problem has been and will be with viewers like me who fear the worst and sadly see their worst fears come true! So here is my first suggestion. However sorry Rahul Dravid might have looked this time around, he should be penciled into the one day team as must be VVS Laxman who the Australians respect and certainly Murali Kartik! I know that with this reinforcement of the 20-20 win the clamour to get rid of the seniors will soon reach a crescendo. But lets have a sense of perspective. Robin Uthappa has a lot of flair and ability but there are not too many others waiting in the wings for us to dispense with the biggies in a hurry. Let us try to be graceful [though that seems to be contrary to our current culture] and remember what these cricketers have done for our country. Let us not be a nation of thankless people.

What about Pakistan?
Pakistan will be a lot closer than Australia was in the one day version of the game. Thankfully for us they are a wonderfully unpredictable cricketing side with some outstanding players. But they field abominably and at times play absolutely unforgivably. But they still have some players Like Younis Khan, Asif, Afridi and Mohd Yousuf who seem to love the Indian challenge. I believe they have an outstanding pace attack and we need the big three to show the way. It is only with senior players that we will last the full complement of fifty overs. I love this talk about youngsters but you just cannot select someone simply because he is young and shows promise. He must be ready for the big occasion. We need to keep alternating, rotating and giving an opportunity for young people to blend. Some will feel left out and perhaps even be left out unreasonably or so it will seem, but some like Mathew Hayden and Mike Hussey will wait and break open the selection doors, just the way David Hussey is doing just now. We love to hate the Aussies but even they do some things right! I just hope the Indian selection committee does a few things right and I fervently wish that we, arm chair critics mindless cricket fans and media learn the art of patience.

Success is a process not an event
There is no bigger event than the world cup and India have just won that. And to reiterate our superiority we have just beaten Australia again in this format. Heady stuff! But Australia are struggling to come to terms with this version of the game attitudinally and tactically. They missed a trick by not playing Brad Hogg in the entire twenty 20 tournament and the one game at the Brabourne. They will crack this. But I am not so much worried about them as I am worried about ourselves. When Sachin Tendulkar was the premier batsman in world cricket every up and coming bowler wanted to knock him over. But he was equal to the task. Now every team in the world will try to knock us over after all beating the world champions will make headlines. We need to win consistently at least in the twenty 20 format for a long period. Since 95 Australia have been the test champions and the one day world champions since 99.That calls for some consistency, pride in your performance and a strong desire to remain on top. We have started well. The weeks and months ahead are going to be challenging for our team. It is a period of stress with the old giving way to the new. But let us not make it difficult for the team. In Dhoni we have a leader who could easily be a prime minister, so easily does responsibility rest on his shoulders! Let us support him and the team. Our place in the sun will come. Now that we have tasted blood we shall prevail sooner rather than later!
(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO, brand-comm, and the author of One Land, One Billion Minds.)

Friday, October 19, 2007

What is this home advantage?

“Tigers at home and lambs abroad” “Indians do not travel well”… I am sure these are statements that we in India are familiar with and our neighbours from the subcontinent in Sri Lanka and Pakistan too would empathise with these statements as they have watched their own home team decimate the opposition at home and succumb meekly in England or Australia, done in by the bounce or by the swing and swerve that these countries presented to their teams when they travelled abroad. Yet what has happened over the last few weeks in the subcontinent has been extremely revealing of the changed dynamics in the game of cricket. Pakistan has just lost a home series to South Africa, England of all countries has beaten Sri Lanka on the pitches of Sri Lanka and Australia have beaten India in India in a one day contest which is still stretching interminably as there seem to be seven games in the series in all. Yet it is not all doom and gloom for the subcontinent as in April this year. It was Sri Lanka who was the losing finalist to Australia in the West Indies [not South Africa or even New Zealand] at the Cricket World cup and last month it was India and Pakistan that met in the 20-20 finals at the Wanderers, not Australia or South Africa as some of us expected.. Let us also not forget the Indian test team led by Rahul Dravid had beaten England in a test series at home after 21 long years. So what is happening? Does home advantage no longer exist? Are teams training better and preparing better for what were earlier alien conditions? Are locational advantages becoming neutralized?

WACA down the years

One of the most dramatic changes in the pitch that one has observed has been the WACA at Perth. Most foreign teams especially from the subcontinent used to dread going there. You could see batsman jumping around like cats on a hot tin roof on the bowler friendly pitch with the tennis ball bounce. Of course once in a while a batsman like Roy Fredericks would take advantage of the bounce and send the ball rocketing to all parts of the field with even greater force aided by the speed at which the ball came on to the bat. But all that has changed over the last few years. Remember Mathew Hayden’s(short) record-breaking 380 was on this now benign pitch and in fact one of the few drawn test matches that Australia have played in was the one against South Africa at this venue a couple of years ago. Of course England managed to lose here as well in their disastrous Ashes tour last year. India will be playing here early next year on the 16th of January 2008 and they must be hoping that the WACA is more like the recent past and not like the eighties and nineties. What about our Indian wickets? Sadly they seem to vary in quality, just a little bit like our Indian team. Last time around at Nagpur where Australia conquered the final frontier the curator presented Glenn McGrath with a green top and presented Harbhajan and co with a raging turner at Mumbai, sadly after the series had been decided in Australia’s favour.

Be prepared

I remember this slogan from my school scouting days and the success of modern teams is built around this preparedness. When Indian wickets tended to be complete dust bowls and raging turners, teams used to dread coming here. In fact some of the greatest Australian cricketers never toured this part of the world citing some excuse or the other and their autographies spoke about either how our hotels had rats running around or the lack of facilities in the country. But whoever toured here then just struggled on these pitches and our spinners ruled the roost. The new ball was happily thrown on the ground often deliberately and people like the Nawab of Pataudi opened the bowling. Even as the batsman took guard he would see Bishan Singh Bedi loosening up at third man! But by the late nineties people who came from abroad started to resist and on occasion actually dominate like Mathew Hayden did. Apparently the SCG practice pitches have replicated most conditions so the Indian dust bowls do not seem to be so alien to the Australians who conquered the final frontier in 2004. England too played much better here. But we are still struggling by and large in Australia and South Africa. Even the recent victory in England has been an exception. Earlier in the days when Indian cricket was not as obscenely rich as it is today, players would play in the Lancashire league and people like Venkat and Dilip Doshi to name just two, played in the English county circuit to get experience in different conditions. Today with all the money and the facilities that we can afford, the biggest task is to prepare for tours like the demanding Australian tour in December 2007 by replicating the bounce in practice pitches here before we tour. I wonder whether we do things like this. Can we ensure that more of our young cricketers train in academies in Australia and England? I think man for man we can compete with any team in the world but we struggle as a team, particularly abroad and more often than not it is because our organizers do not have the knowledge or the vision.

The way forward

Today the process of ranking teams is far more scientific than it has ever been. We have official world champions today unlike the early 2000s. This ranking will obviously happen based on our performances both at home and abroad. I think we need to religiously hold on to our home strengths and consciously prepare for overseas trips. Given the frenetic nature of the game today where most teams are given one warm up game before the tests [we have one game against Victoria before the Boxing Day test match]. Of course our greedy officials have ensured that there is just one week between the final test against Pakistan and the first tour game in Australia. So lets be prepared for the usual talk about how teams do not get time to prepare for overseas tours! We know this schedule and there are no surprises but the biggest surprise will be when we prepare for this tour and deliver abroad the way some of the foreign teams have delivered in the sub continent.
(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO, brand-comm, and the author of One Land, One Billion Minds.)

Friday, October 12, 2007

What is wrong with “the colonel”?

Indians as a nation suffer from “foot in the mouth disease.” I am not sure if there is any formal research on this to suggest that we are world champions at this in addition to 20-20 cricket. The incidence of this disease however is more rampant amongst cricket administrators, selectors, managers, board secretaries et al. But I think leading the pack is our chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar. I used to be a great admirer of this batsman in the “70s. He started out a dasher and then became an amazingly correct batsman who played some wonderful strokes. His strokes off his pads were a delight to watch and rivaled those of Greg Chappell who was a superlative batsman and an ordinary coach. Now our former master batsman and present chairman of selectors is rivaling our erstwhile coach in shooting his mouth off to the media. My larger worry is whether Vengsarkar is being simply naïve and being baited by the media, or does he have a larger agenda and that is to get rid of Rahul Dravid?

Dravid leaves in a huff
Cricket (and if one may add life) has its fair share of people who despite tremendous achievements are largely unwept, unhonoured and unsung. Rahul Dravid despite his enormous achievements must be the person who has got the least credit for winning matches for India, keeping wickets, shouldering burden, putting up with pinpricks from the administrators and being largely unappreciated for India’s significant victory over England which was definitely superior to the victory of Ajit Wadekar’s team which was widely feted. England is a formidable opponent as a test playing country at home and have recently beaten every team at home including Australia. Because of the absolute bizarre scheduling of cricket at present the Indian team took off to South Africa and some of the seniors including Rahul Dravid who did not participate in the 20-20 returned home not to a tumultuous welcome as one would expect but to criticism by Vengsarkar about Dravid not batting at no.3. No one knows why Dravid quit the captaincy but I think the last straw must have been this unnecessary and unwarranted statement by our “colonel”. If he had a problem with Dravid was he not better off talking to him instead of talking to the media? Why does the chairman of selectors need the Times of India to talk to the captain of the Indian cricket team. I am sure he has his mobile number.

Seniors or Dravid?
Then when the Australian team started beating India as you would expect them to, the “colonel “got into the act again. He said seniors cannot take their place for granted. Not even the prime minister in this country can take his place for granted, just ask Sitaram yechury or Karunanidhi. Don’t the seniors know their place is not sure? How long have they been a part of this mess that is Indian cricket? I think all of this is to vent the colonel’s anger at Dravid resigning the captaincy, which he has taken personally. If he had his way Dravid would be out of the team at Nagpur and sadly Dravid has been at the receiving end of Brett Lee for a couple of games and has been out trying to accelerate in a couple of games. He also looks a shadow of his normal, imperial self at the crease ever since he resigned the captaincy. He needs support not criticism. All of us are quick to criticize the Australians but just see how they are persisting with Brad Hodge even though Brad Haddin is breaking down the door with his performances. Dravid is simply the best modern Indian batsman that I have seen, in all conditions, against all attacks particularly outside India. Adding to the confusion is a largely clueless television media who are questioning his role in the one day side and in the team as well, after all they belong to the 20-20 generation of cricket followers! I just wonder if they remember the recent English tour and Bristol and Dravid’s match winning innings .I am sure they don’t because this same media refers to James Hopes as an outstanding spinner! So there you go!

Think country
For too long the Mumbai faction has run the game the way it wants .I think the time is right to think about the game of cricket. It is not only about 20-20.We have important series coming up against Pakistan which will be followed by a long, arduous tour of Australia .If we do make the mistake of going to Australia without Dravid then we will surely come back with our tail between our legs and we would richly deserve that!

And finally a word of advice for the “colonel”.
This is an important job that you have been entrusted with. Try to rise above personal preferences and local considerations and don’t let your enormous ego get the better of you. The hopes of a billion people are riding on your decisions and try to give back to this game that has given you everything. Sadly the person giving more back to Indian cricket seems to be an Australian though it may be difficult for us to digest this-Denis Lillee! And if the Indian pace bowling is a strength for us today we have him to thank. I do realize that the colonel is doing a thankless job .But that does not mean he has to make a hash of it!
(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO, brand-comm, and the author of One Land, One Billion Minds.)

Monday, October 8, 2007

How to beat Australia

Australia is here and is back to its winning, arrogant, swaggering, sledging ways. One can whinge endlessly about them or figure out a strategy to beat them. I suppose a lot of India is disappointed, that the results have been so far been so one sided, but to someone like me who has watched Australia closely over the years it is hardly surprising. In the 2007 world cup which one had the misfortune of watching live, the Australians were a cut above the rest and this was one of the reasons why the tournament was so uninteresting and predictable though the Australians opened up the tournament in the minds of media at least by losing the Commonwealth Bank series to England after drubbing them 5-0 in the Ashes and losing to New Zealand in the Chappell Hadlee series just before the World cup, despite being without some of their biggest stars. The World cup has been a happy hunting ground for the Australians and the last match they lost was way back in 1999 on the 13th of May to Pakistan which had the amazing Wasim Akram, who is now in the commentator’s box and is yet unable to inspire an Australian defeat by any other team in the premier cricketing championship in the world. However much the twenty-twenty world cup means to us in India, it is still new.

Is there a way?
Yet, Australia can be beaten and have been beaten on occasion. Australia have a simple formula in the one day game. They bat first and pile on an inspiring total. Look at this series and the three games that we have played so far. At Bangalore they scored 306 in the allotted fifty overs and before the rain came pelting down we were 9 for 1 in the third over. At Kochi they again scored 306 and we were 94 runs adrift. At Hyderabad Dhoni won the toss and surprisingly chose to field. The iffy conditions or so they seemed, did not matter to Gilchrist and Hayden as we started with our trademark wides. Once they have an imposing score then it is a familiar routine .Get an early wicket and then tighten the screws, soon the asking rate becomes 7 and 8 then all we are left wondering about is the margin of defeat which was 47 runs at Hyderabad. Are we getting closer? I hope so. The value of batting first has already been seen at Chandigarh as we have scored 291 and the Australians are under pressure for the first time in the series.

Intimidate them with bat or ball don’t sledge them.
Actually if you analyze Australian defeats over the last several years, the first thing that strikes you is that they have been few and far between. Yet there is a pattern to it. Lets go back to 2005 and the Ashes, albeit a different version of the game but essentially the same team, in fact better, as it had Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath as well. Remember the series? It started with Justin Langer being hit on the head and Ricky Ponting being hit on the cheek and Mathew Hayden being hit by an accidental [?] throw. The Australians were rattled and thrown out by substitute fielders. Duncan Fletcher annoyed them and they lost their cool .There is a lesson here. If you look at people like Graeme Smith they have tried to engage the Australians in: mental disintegration and end up coming second best and run to the media to complain. Harbhajan has just done that. This sledging and tall talk is all fine as long as it fires you up and not the opposition. Remember Flint off and Yuvaraj and the consequent six sixes. Poor Chris Broad, he felt the brunt of Yuvaraj’s reaction. That is my only worry about Sreesanth’s theatricals. Yes he is firing himself up but in the bargain is he inspiring the opposition as well? And comments like the one made by Robin Uthappa saying that we have a strategy for the Australians seem particularly interesting, since he was not even part of the team at Bangalore! Can we be subtle about the sledging like Stephen Fleming instead of being dumb about it? Back to the intimidation and Australian defeats, they have happened due to top flight pace bowling by the likes of Shane Bond [more often] and Mkhaya Ntini once in a while.

Spin the key
The Australians have struggled against the likes of Daniel Vettori in recent times. India must play two spinners in the sub continent at least. It is just unfortunate that Ramesh Powar has struggled, but who knows Murali Karthik may just be the talisman that we have been struggling so far to find! Batting second in our sub continental wickets with low, slow bounce will not be easy and this afternoon for the first time we are getting this opportunity. The next big opportunity to beat Australia will come out of one or two players batting out of their skins like Gibbs at the Wanderers or Collingwood in Australia or Ross Taylor in New Zealand A couple of Indians will have to bat out of their skins in the series and soon if we are going to win this series.

Its all in the mind
Typically the only way to beat Australia is to be mentally strong. Few people have had this virtue. Stephen Fleming comes to mind readily. Michael Vaughn was an outstanding competitor in the Ashes series in 2005 and had the better of Ricky Ponting. Saurav Ganguly got the better of Steve Waugh and much earlier the abrasive Arjuna Ranatunga brought Australia down a peg or two. Sadly most other captains and teams have been found wanting. And when Australia gets a chance to dominate a player whether it is Atherton or Cullinan then they do so quickly. How often have opposing teams got the opportunity to dominate an Australian player and keep him on the ground? Dhoni has a refreshing look about his demeanour and captaincy and there are lots of new players in the current team who have not been mentally scarred by the Australians by past defeats at their hands. Now is the chance for us to land a few blows otherwise it could be downhill all the way not only in this series but right through the cricketing season where we have so many games to play against the same team. I wish people who fixed this schedule had a little more sense.

P.S.: We have just made it at Chandigarh the old fashioned way. Put up a big score and watch the opposition struggle. I just hope that is the beginning of an era where we regularly beat the Australians. Congrats India!
(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO, brand-comm, and the author of One Land, One Billion Minds.)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Cricket is back with a bang

The unexpected has happened. India has won the 20-20 world cup against odds as the bookmakers will sadly concede and against more fancied teams like Australia and South Africa. Of course nothing is more satisfying for Indians than beating Pakistan but that was only slightly less than my own personal satisfaction about my prediction about the bright future for the pint sized edition of cricket in my column in this very same newspaper and section as early as January 2007 under the title “A Hit-and-giggle or a laugh all the way to the bank?”. The response to the game and our victory has been nothing short of sensational. I happened to be in Mumbai on 26th September and one had to see to believe the scenes. In pouring rain, thousands stood on the streets to cheer their heroes. Old ladies went running after the gaily decorated bus to catch a glimpse of our stars and women and children braved the rain to squeeze into the Wankhede stadium hours before the cavalcade would enter, only to see our politicians hogging the limelight! So what’s new? But what is new is the speed with which our victory and cricket starved populace took to the spectacle of the new format. Some pessimists are already predicting the death of test cricket and questioning the need for the one day version of the game. I am sure people in advertising are familiar with predictions made earlier of the death of newspapers, radio, magazines and even television as one new medium or the other has taken the limelight. But today every medium has an audience, even if finely segmented and magazines and radio have found new audiences. Test cricket will stay on in mature markets like Australia and England at least. But what will certainly happen is that it will start to be played at a more frenetic pace. Already run rates of four per over are happening in test cricket and it could soon become 5 and a draw will become as rare as a maiden over in a 20-20 game. Anybody remember Bapu Nadkarni’s twenty seven maiden overs in a row or Barrington and Bolus? May we never see the likes of that in our future lifetime at least! But instead of waxing eloquent about cricket and its glorious (?) past lets talk about the future. Of advertising and its renewed obsession with cricket.

Advertising almost kills the golden goose

We saw a lot of advertising during the recent tournament in South Africa, most of it bad, a lot of it spilling over into the last ball or the first ball and quite often over both. Clearly the marketers felt that the time to make hay was now, while the lights were on! Late entrants to the advertising band wagon had, if media reports are to be believed, paid as much as 7.5 lakhs for ten seconds. But still the choice made sense. The TRPs if initial reports are to be believed have been vastly superior to the world cup held in the West Indies definitely and hit new highs. For one it has friendlier viewing times for our audience at least. Again our advertisers bought into the hoopla of the world cup without bothering to think that the matches would be in the middle of the night. Nor had we bargained for India’s poor showing. So the next time before you commit major moneys into a program, cricket especially, look at the timing of the match. Timing is not important only to Yuvraj, it is as critical to people in advertising and marketing as well.

Is there a smarter way?

Sometimes I believe our cricketers tend to sway emotions of not only fans but advertisers quite easily. So there is a herd mentality of following whether it is fans or sponsors. Remember the mad rush to sign on Sachin? He was even giving Amitabh a run for his money! Now one sees a similar frenzy in signing on Dhoni and Yuvraj. Why do our advertisers take the easy way out? Why not sign a budding cricketer at a fraction of the price? Maybe he will deliver disproportionate results. I remember a couple of years ago we had done a commercial with the firebrand Sreesanth for the Muthoot Pappachan Group. The company had the wisdom to sign on the local cricketer as one of his first sponsors even when his place was not certain in the team at that point of time. Today they would be sitting pretty as so many sponsors are falling over themselves in an attempt to sign on the bowler who castled Mathew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist in the semi finals. Mind you I have no problem with the biggies but even as they enjoy the adulation of the masses they simply cost more, much more. There is also the real risk of brand dilution as consumers may get confused and not really bother about who is endorsing what. We need to remember that every endorsement decision finally has to boil down to one of cost-benefit. What is the benefit that you are getting in relation to the investment that you are making?

Innovation the name of the game

Most advertisers have one plain vanilla commercial that they use across the board whether it is 20-20 or the K series. It is probably a fair comment given the fact that the advertising message does not change. However one saw Coca Cola this time around create quick ten seconders that were topical, on cricket, and probably not very expensive to produce. Advertisers need to look at properties that they can own cricket or otherwise. I remember TVS sa re ga ma. I am sure similar thought can go into properties around cricket. In the telecast of the recent 20-20 world cup Indigo Nation had sponsored player profiles. The Future Group is associating with cricket in a big way and the India- Australia seven match one day series is branded as the “Future Cup”. People want to not merely watch commercials, they need to be engaged, intrigued, and challenged even. So the question you need to answer is this-okay I want to get into cricket, maybe the twenty twenty variety, so what should I do? I am a great believer in advertising in non India matches. True the viewership will be lower .But the game will get a better audience than you think. The game will get viewers if it is tight, interesting and have twenty twists and turns like the India - Pakistan match. Just apply your mind. Don’t just follow the herd.

What about creativity?

Sometimes our advertisers believe that merely being present is enough. I saw some pretty pathetic advertising during this series. I do not want to upset my friends in the industry by naming them and I am sure you have your own list of diabolical commercials. Why is so much of the advertising that we see on the TV so poor? Or am I being too critical? Imagine the hatred that you can have for a brand which has irritating execution and that is bereft of ideas that also eats into the live telecast of the match or an Australian wicket. That is what happened quite often in my view. So advertisers who are putting in so much money behind cricket, particularly the accelerated version of the game need to take a long, hard look at their own creative product. Once again the cost of producing a commercial is a fraction of the media cost. Do not throw good money after bad. And yet I must mention one nice topical press ad that Pepsi had done which went something like this “Shoaib uncle, Adam uncle, Shaun uncle….zhara side dena, humko cup lena hai” said the ad. I saw this in Mumbai, the day the team returned. I wonder if it was a national campaign. It certainly deserved to be. That to me was a smart example of using the occasion and being creative as well.

Monitor, course correct

At the time of writing there is a major hysteria about cricket and euphoria about the team. But by the team the column appears things might change, such is the volatility of the Indian cricket viewing public. We have a gruelling season against Australia that will be followed by a series against Pakistan and a long and arduous tour of Australia with test matches and a tri series featuring Sri Lanka and the home team as well. We could lose focus, get injured and lose games. We all know what happens when the Indian team loses. While there is nothing one can do about the average Indian cricket fan’s extreme views, there is something that marketers can do about their own efforts. Look for cheaper opportunities. Look to do things around cricket if not during the actual telecast. Try to engage the audience with your brand using cricket if necessary. Try not to link your fortunes too much to the Indian team’s performance. 20-20 has been described as a lottery that we have just won. Try not to make your marketing a lottery as well.
(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO, brand-comm, and the author of One Land, One Billion Minds.)