Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Ravi Shastri, Sanjay Manjrekar, Robin Jackman, Kepler Wessels, HD Ackerman, Ramiz Raja, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Ajay Jadeja, Simon Doull, Danny Morrison, Ian Bishop, Daren Ganga, Isa Guha, Alan Wilkins, Pommie Mbangwa, Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, Alistair Campbell and Harsha Bhogle.
This, in no particular order, is the rather lengthy and extensive roster of on-air and on-screen talent commentating on the Indian Premier League — a panel comprising a World Cup-winning captain, six Test captains, representatives from seven cricket-playing nations spanning 40 years of international cricket from 1971 to 2011, an established female cricketer, players witness to political and cricketing controversies including the apartheid, the Mugabe regime and match fixing, and some of the most respected voices on the game.
Ever since the biggest scandal to rock the IPL came to light on May 16, however, the host broadcaster and the BCCI — who provide a team of commentators for the world feed — have reduced their 20 experts to the conspicuously silent minority of the spot-fixing saga. Not since the cast of Ocean’s Thirteen has a gathering of such experience and talent been so grossly under-utilised.
In the week following the revelations by the Delhi police, the fixing controversy has been the lead story in every newspaper and across television channels; it has been a hotly-contested debate for those who usually sensationalise but equally for those who analyse. From South Africa to the Caribbean, this is a story that impacts every cricket-playing nation on the globe, and yet, the silence on the network hosting the billion-dollar spectacle has been astounding. Whether a billion feel betrayed or not, the television audience watching the IPL on Max certainly does.
The spot-fixing controversy has found no mention at all in the past week. Not on the world feed and most certainly not on Extraaa Innings — a ‘cricket’ wraparound show that loves a tamasha like none other but heads in the opposite direction when it comes to discussing anything of even remote substance on the game.
If you were watching the circus unfold on Max, you would be forgiven for thinking the most important developments since last Thursday — apart from the teams that will contest the playoffs — were Chris Gayle learning the jumping japang dance from Extraaa Innings host Sameer Kochhar, Sidhu enjoying himself immensely when confronted with an impersonator who, if possible, was even more annoying than the original, and the appearance of Bollywood glitterati Akshay Kumar and Sonakshi Sinha, which must mean they have a new film to promote.
The captain of the IPL franchise involved in this dreadful mess has spoken out, the franchise owners and managers have spoken out, the BCCI has spoken out, the players have spoken out, and members of this very commentary panel have expressed their views on news television but Max continues its existence in an alternate universe.
Apparently, it is silly of the viewer to expect a debate on the fallout of the controversy, on the unravelling of Sreesanth, on the impact of IPL riches on young and vulnerable players from India’s rural pockets or, indeed, how difficult it must be for members of the Rajasthan Royals — especially Rahul Dravid — to leave the controversy behind them and put on their game faces leading into the playoffs.
Some would say it is naïve to expect a network that spent a billion dollars to grab the rights — and is now trying its darnedest to recover the investment — to damage its own brand by talking about the controversy that could have serious consequences on its television rating points. But the point is no matter how desperately they would like to, they can’t sweep this controversy under the carpet and wish it away, the malaise is too deep rooted to ignore.
One can attempt to understand this silence. Television advertising measurement – or TAM ratings – clearly reveal IPL viewership has been plummeting every year since 2010. Part of this can be attributed to several thousand TAM meters being introduced to small-town India but this is a development as recent as this year — it still doesn’t explain the declining ratings for 2011 and 2012.
Year after year, the IPL coverage on Max repeatedly fails its viewers — in its treatment of women or in the way it addresses critical issues like spot fixing — but the broadcaster’s greatest injustice is a ludicrous show that masquerades as cricketainment.
In this frantic rush to make the property profitable and boost television ratings, the money poured into technology, into making its wraparound shows “bigger and better”, into recruiting a galaxy of commentators and anchors, and into promoting this billion-dollar spectacle is obscene, but all the glitz and money in the world can’t make up for its lack of soul.
This reaction is along expected lines. After all, this is exactly the line followed during any controversy — and the IPL has had plenty. One month before the tournament finale in 2010, Lalit Modi — then IPL commissioner — tweeted about ownership patterns in the Kochi franchise. It was a scandal alright as the enforcement directorate raided Modi’s office in the BCCI headquarters, swooped in on his laptop and the BCCI bosses sacked Modi in a bloodless coup of sorts.
The only time anyone watching the telecast on Max, though, would have known about the controversy was when Modi unexpectedly took the microphone to make a speech before the closing ceremony where he quoted from the Bhagwad Gita and spoke of “innuendoes, half truths and motivated leaks.”
After a piece I wrote on the male gaze and sexism in the IPL, one of Extraaa Innings’ former anchors, invited by a news channel to share her experience and views, flippantly suggested there was no need to discuss sexism and “be so serious” because “this is just a wraparound show after all!”
Nobody expects the broadcaster to be society’s moral guardian and uphold its virtues but surely, it can do just a bit more than insulting its viewers’ intelligence and being deeply disrespectful by continuing to pretend nothing has happened six days after the scandal broke.