Recent television viewership surveys have shown a worrying situation for the ongoing IPL cricket tournament. For the second week in succession, the viewership of the IPL tournament has decreased. According to the financial daily Mint, the fandom around the big event has taken a major hit this year with viewership dropping sharply. Times Now has reported that the brand value of the IPL is likely to fall as a result of this reduction in viewership. Inside Sport has reported that the BCCI is highly concerned that viewership has dropped by 28 percent from last year. Economic Times and Business Standard have also carried reports about this new and unexpected downward swing.
The reasons for this trend can be attributed to several factors. These include poor performance of the top teams like Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings. Also the fact that people now prefer to go outdoors after the long pandemic instead of staying indoors to watch television. But perhaps a big reason could be cricket fatigue.
There is no doubt that too much cricket is being played nowadays. Back in the 1970s and 80s, it was a common sight to see cricket loving friends gathered at an Irani cafe discussing the merits and demerits of a match that had just ended. Over endless cups of tea, they would discuss why Gavaskar played a particular shot to a particular ball. Or, why was a fielder placed in a certain position or who was a shrewd captain and so on. There was time between matches to relish each piece of action and recollect all the details.
But now there is so much cricket that there is no time to linger over the finer points of any match. One forgets what happened yesterday. Because there is another match today and there will be another match tomorrow. How much cricket can the public digest ?
This glut has been caused by the commercialisation of the game. Even players have complained sometimes that they are being taxed beyond their capacity. Players are treated like commodities nowadays. They are bought and sold at auctions. When their owners order them to play they must play. When their owner tells them to sit they must sit. But the players have willingly become a party to this new system for the sake of big bucks, so they cannot complain.
The second big factor for dropping viewership could be that some new and charismatic heroes are needed in the game who can recapture the imagination of the public. How long can Dhoni and Kohli continue to be the main entertainers ? They are both nearing the end of their careers and Indian cricket needs one or two new players who have the ability to create the on field magic that these two have done.
But what makes a player charismatic ? That is a difficult question to answer. Charisma is a combination of success and an X-Factor which is difficult to define. When we see a certain player we can understand that he has charisma but we cannot say what is the exact quality that sets him apart from the rest. Sachin Tendulkar had it. Kapil Dev and Sunny Gavaskar had it. Vivian Richards had it. So also Clive Lloyd, Joel Garner, Dennis Lillee and many others.
Outside cricket, the greatest sportsman of all time was Muhammad Ali who had boundless charisma. His memory will remain in the minds of the public for decades to come. Another charismatic name of boxing is that of Mike Tyson. During his career he was guilty of misdemeanors but he could hold audiences spellbound.
Simply being successful is not enough to attract attention. When we talk of the great West Indian fast bowlers, whose names come first to our minds ? It is usually Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall and Andy Roberts. But all these bowlers were not as successful as Courtney Walsh whose tally of 519 Test wickets was once the world record. Yet the name of Walsh does not come up first and foremost when we talk of West Indies fast bowlers.
So the public needs a player who has the ability to draw them back to the game. Among the Indian cricketers, Dhoni and Kohli have that crowd pulling power but new players who carry that magnetic appeal are not yet in sight. No doubt new heroes will emerge soon. All sports have that unique quality of producing talented players who can pull in crowds. Messi and Ronaldo in football, Virat Kohli and M.S. Dhoni in cricket, Khabib Nurmagomedov in MMA, Federer, Djokovic and Nadal in tennis – all these players have that X-Factor which we call charisma. It is time for Indian cricket to produce another name that will keep the popularity of the game going at a high level.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.