Productivity in South Asia can’t be all that high these days. A good part of our 1.5 billion combined population stays up late into the night, watching live TV broadcasts of cricket matches of the ICC World Cup.
Because the championship is hosted in the West Indies, time differences mean that each match would begin in the evening and continue into the early hours of our mornings.
Lots of people turn up at work with bleary eyes.
But that’s nothing compared to the many tears shed, sighs heaved and fists raised when South Asia’s cricket playing nations — Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – lose a match.
The two cricket giants and rivals – India and Pakistan – both had shocking exits in the first round itself. This inspired much anguish, despair and anger. It also wrecked business plans of many South Asian TV networks, which had paid millions of dollars for the rights to broadcast World Cup cricket matches. Now they fear they cannot recover their investment.
Flying from Colombo to Hyderabad for an academic meeting, I read the latest (2 April 2007) issue of the Indian newsmagazine Outlook, which offered a good analysis of what went wrong for India in the World Cup. It’s one among many, many post mortems in the media.
Outlook Editor Vinod Mehta, one of India’s seniormost and outspoken journalists, writes a short piece in this issue, headlined ‘Fatal Attractions’.
In his typical style, he starts:
I told-you-so journalism can be both exasperating and juvenile. Thus, I get no pleasure in reminding you that four weeks before our determined fifteen left for the Caribbean, I had lamented: “Am I the only one turned off by Indian cricket? I’d much rather relax watching an old film than see our boys wield the willow. The occasional fluke victory is all we can hope for. The team looks pedestrian and, frequently, pathetic.
Then he gets more serious, saying we must ask ourselves if the media and the marketers are doing us a favour by injecting such hyper-nationalism ‘as they collectively raise unrealistic hopes of India’s conquests’.
“The martial music, the thumping of chests, the shouts of “India, India”, the painting of the national colours on faces, the patriotic exhortations of politicos suggests that the Cup is already in the bag; the winning is just a formality. When we experience not just defeat but a sound thrashing, the Indian cricket fan, who has been duped by slick promos and to some extent his own credulity, finds reality intolerable. If, instead, expectations were kept at a reasonable level we would not undergo such a tremendous feeling of being let down. We could cope with the disappointment.
“No other team in the World Cup, not even the Aussies and the Proteas, play under so much pressure, most of it induced by greedy advertisers hoping to exploit the passion for the game. I believe this exploitation has gone on long enough. The market must stop playing with the emotions of a nation. Meanwhile, we should remember we have just lost a game of cricket. We are not finished as a nation.”