Sunday, March 8, 2015

Forty Years of Cricket World Cup : A Trip Down the Memory Lane

Eleventh Cricket World Cup is interestingly poised after three weeks. Only a few teams are decisively out of contention for knock out stage. I have almost religiously followed each World Cup. On Radio to begin with, then in front of TV. Now of course internet and mobile don’t let you miss a single action. My childhood friends who used to be equally passionate, have slowly stopped ‘wasting’ (as per them) time. But I continue to be glued to Cricket action. Even after Forty years, close encounters, like the one between Zimbabwe and Ireland today, still creates an air of excitement in me.

Has Cricket changed since the first World Cup in 1975? Yes to an extent - the clothing, the equipment, the grounds, the stands. But, core of Cricket is still the same. Same Leather balls of the same weight, same bat, and pitch of same length. So not much of a change really.

What has definitely changed, and changed for the good, is the manner in which people follow Cricket. For somebody like me, who has spent his entire life in a small town in interiors of Marathwada region in Maharashtra, the venues of international Cricket are not nearby. I must have watched live international Cricket in Stadium for not more than Ten days. But I have spent Hundreds of hours listening to Radio commentary in early years and later watching on TV. The Cricket broadcast has changed drastically over the years, primarily due to modern technology.

Cricket bug had bitten me very early in my life. Even though I was just Fourteen at the time of first World cup, I had already become a fan of BBC Test match special because I had experienced the excitement of India beating England at Oval in 1971. It was a tough time defying elders in house as well as understanding heavy accent of the likes of Brian Johnston and Henry Blofeld. Neither All India Radio nor Indian players had taken this one day format of Cricket seriously.

Second edition of Prudential World Cup in 1979 was more or less the similar story. Indian attitude had hardly changed. But ardent Cricket fans like me were being sumptuously treated by Windies Cricketers and BBC’s commentary team.

India won the 1983 cup and things started to change dramatically. Suddenly Indian TV audience emerged as a huge market. Hence Cricket’s TV coverage started being controlled by marketing professionals. Amateur commentators like Suresh Saraiya slowly made way for hardcore marketing professionals like Harsha Bhogle.

India won the 1983 cup and things started to change dramatically. suddenly Indian TV audience emerged as a huge market. Hence Cricket'sTV coverage started being controlled by marketing professionals. Amateur commentators like Suresh Saraiyya slowly made way for media savvy professionals like Harsha Bhogle.

Kerry Packer's  Channel 9 decisively altered the course of Cricket broadcasting. India got its first taste during Bensen Hedges championship in 1985 and then again during 1992 world cup. A great bunch of insightful and knowledgeable ex-Cricketers turned commentators meant listening to them was more entertaining than the action on ground! 

Now that the action on the ground was visible to the viewer, TV commentator had to tell something beyond what is seen. Hence various tools started becoming part of broadcaster’s armoury. Multiple cameras, , introduction of third umpire adjucating with the help of Slow motion replays, hot spot technologies etc. The legend has it that Bobby Talyarkhan, well known Cricket commentator in Sixties (I remember him listening to him during 1972 series against England) used to tap his desk by pencil to simulate stroke played by batsman. Now we have stump mic and snickometers ready not only to catch bat sound but also the players’ indulgence in sledging!  

In the olden days, commentators like Suresh Saraiya, Anant Setalwad etc used to be accompanied by scorers in the AIR commentary box. All India Radio used to announce their names at the beginning of broadcast. Anand Dosa and Sudhir Vaidya are some names that I still remember. Their painstaking record keeping is now replaced by powerful computer systems which are an important companion of today’s TV commentator. Every conceivable data analysis is now available at fingertips.

Entry of former Cricketers into commentary has certainly made watching Cricket (and particularly listening to them) more educative. Youngsters from even remote areas are now able to understand the nuances of the sport directly from those who have been there and done it all!

Match coverage has become very glamorous now. During the telecast, spectator is now given a glimpse of exotic tourist locations and cuisines. Various pre and post match shows have now become more or less promotional events.

Technology is all pervading. It has entered in Cricket broadcasting too. It has certainly made watching Cricket a great fun. But has it made it memorable? Yesteryear’s commentators, with their sheer ability of narration used to create such a powerful visualization of happenings on Cricket ground, that those impressions are still vivid in memory. Can you say it about the match you might have watched live a week ago?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bopanna-Qureshi Partnership and Indo-Pak Relations

Tennis Diplomacy?

The Indo-Pak doubles team of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam Qureshi went down fighting in the final of recently concluded US Open Grand slam Tennis Championship. But the duo won hearts of millions of viewers worldwide. Emotionally charged appeal made by Qureshi at the prize distribution ceremony, not to treat every Pakistani as terrorist and to help generously to the flood affected people of Pakistan, was well received by everybody, including their opponents, the Bryan brothers, who donated from their prize money.

Bopanna and Qureshi have been playing together for a while now. It is only their recent successes that their unusual partnership has attracted media attention. All along, the players, especially Bopanna, have maintained that this was a purely professional alliance. However, now the duo seeks to use their popularity to bridge the cross-border divide and promote peace between their respective nuclear power enabled home countries who are arch rivals for more than six decades now. They plan to play Tennis on the Wagha Border, that separates India and Pakistan by wearing T-Shirts with slogans like 'Stop War, Start Tennis, Love India / Love Pakistan'

Tenniswise, both of them have done immense service to their respective countries as much as (if not more) they have done together for being so called peace ambassadors. Pakistan sports is in the news for all the wrong reasons of late. Cricket and Hockey are two of most popular sports in Pakistan. While four time world champions Pakistan had to undergo ignominy of finishing last in the world cup held a few months ago, Pakistani Cricketers are facing flak from everybody for their repeated involvement in corruption. Qureshi's twin success at US Open (Qureshi is also runner-up in Mixed doubles this year) has certainly given the Pakistani sports fraternity something to cheer about.

No Pakistan had ever reached the finals of any Grand slam event. India, on the other hand, has a better track record in international Tennis. However, Indian Tennis seems to have stagnated and there's nothing to look beyond Paes and Bhupati who are approaching twilight of their careers. In Bopanna, India have certainly found somebody to keep country's flag afloat.

Reading the excerpts of interview of the Indo-Pak express, as the Bopanna-Qureshi pair is being nicknamed, is quite interesting. Bopanna seems to be looking at the partnership more objectively when he says that we are not here to make any political statement. Qureshi, on the other hand doesn't hesitate to make his views clear about the involvement of politics in sports etc.

There's no doubt that Bopanna and Qureshi form a formidable doubles team. Earlier this month, they had defeated Brayan brothers, world's top ranked combination. On the Arthur Ashe stadium the other night, they displayed great skills, only to be pipped at the post by the awesome Bryans. They look set to achieve more success in years to come. It remains to be seen if their bond remains intact in the face of strained relations between India and Pakistan.

Aisam Qureshi has habit of attracting controversies. Earlier in his career, he was banned from Pakistan's Davis cup team for partnering with an Israeli player Amir Hadad. Muslim-Jew animosity is bitter as Hindu-Muslim hatred. So, it is surprising that the extremist elements in Pakistan haven't so far raised objection to Rohan-Aisam partnership.

In India too, there's no dearth of anti-Islamic elements. Sooner rather than later, right wing parties like shiv Sena or BJP may raise this issue. We might even see protests against Bopanna just as we witness calls of boycott on Pakistani artistes and players.

In the past India and Pakistan has seen many piece initiatives like Cricket Diplomacy, Bus diplomacy etc. In addition, melodramatic TV serials like Chhote Ustaad try to promote BhaiChara by featuring Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Sonu Nigam on one stage. But they have failed to bring normalcy in the relations between the two countries. This duo, and especially Qureshi, aims to use Tennis diplomacy as the vehicle to promote peace. One cannot help becoming skeptical about the response the people of both countries might give to their slogan 'Stop War, Start Tennis, Love India / Love Pakistan'!