August 25, 2006

Out to get you. Live.

By now, every conceivable angle to the Darrell Hair-ball tampering allegation will have been acutely delved into – everyone who has ever watched cricket will have a point-of-view. These views will be swiftly converted into percentages – on cricket websites like cricinfo – with Hong Kong Bank’s “what’s your point of view” ad campaign or into comments on “My Times, My Voice” (Times of India’s speak out campaign post the Mumbai blasts) or as numbers on NDTV’s “We the people” poll or as letters to editors across the commonwealth. Looks like Airtel’s “express yourself” line is the way for most advertisers.

Point is, today, most brands want to project themselves as earnest listeners. In addition to taking a stance, they’re obsessed with “we the people” taking a stance. Speak out. Have your say. What’s on your mind? Take a time out, and you’ll be able to link them with some brand or the other.

Isn’t it incredible that a world where cold-inhumane entities such as multinationals and untouchables like fortune 500 companies are becoming so approachable and desperate to hear you – the man on the field who spends up to 7 hours a day, 5 days on the trot, and God knows how many days of the year, is the last guy in the world who wants to have anything to do with you. Sure, he’s paid to raise a finger, and players are paid to win, but don’t we pay to watch live action?

Forget about trying to approach you, explain himself, hear you, and maybe sort it out like adults (Mr. Hair is above 18, right?) looks like this guy is out to get you.

This is Live Cricket: If the way ahead for Live-sports’ telecast is 3 hours of non-stop rambling by three wise men (Ian Botham, Nasser Hussein, David Gower or Michael Atherton, Michael Holding, David Lloyd), then we are indeed indebted to Mr. Hair. For, in doing away with live ball-to ball action, he also eliminated those no-brainer commercial breaks every 5½ balls. Not intentional, but then how often does live cricket action resemble one those “Breaking News” stories that can’t afford to take a break?

So blasé was Mr. Hair that even the best cricket brains were left dumbfounded – and his brief guest appearance at the wicket, followed by a surreptitious back flip to dislodge the bails was creepy in a sinister sort of way. No wonder they’re calling him Little-Hitler in Karachi – though he does look a tad taller than the original. Then again, Big- Hitler doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. And yeah, changing a red cherry and altering the world map aren’t quite in the same ballpark.

What else? Mr. Hair’s brooding way cast a heavy blanket of gloom on the Oval (it even seemed to get darker and cloudier) – Everything came to a stand still – and had the Pakis returned to play, it’s possible that the allegedly “tampered” ball wouldn’t have reversed either. It looked like the very life had been sucked out of the ground. 20,000 fans waited interminably. No bottle throwing. No drunken brawls. No racial slurs. The Oval looked like a family picnic, albeit a dreadfully boring one.

Not that it made bad television; it was a blast from the past – like the first Gulf War coverage when CNN introduced us to the addictive perils of “blow-up and broadcast news”. Sure it might have been a tad amateurish, but then there’s always another Gulf War.

Such live action keeps us stuck to the suspense – because even though we know a bomb’s been dropped, we’re waiting to figure out the damage. At times, if we’re really lucky, we actually get to see a bomb being dropped. That’s Live Television, Mr. Hair.

While Mr. Hair did drop a bomb by replacing the allegedly “tampered” ball, it was with minimum fuss. Not only did he do so in isolation, he failed to involve the accused in any altercation – what if he had woken the sleeping giant, Inzamam-ul-Haq? Flash back to Toronto when some Indian spectators baited Inzi with that infamous “Aloo” chant. Now, try and picture Inzi grabbing Kevin Pietersen’s bat and chasing Mr. Hair across the Oval. That if anything, would have made great Live Television. But since Toronto, Inzi has mellowed even further - if that’s humanely possible. And there were no such antics.

Worse still, the Paki dressing room stayed mostly shut. The three generals, Zaheer Abbas (Manager) and two sedate senior PCB officials were in view – talking in measured tones, about god-knows-what. Later, when Shahryar Khan, PCB chairman (supposedly senior most general) commented on the “few minutes” protest, (that lasted a lot longer) one realized how out-of-synch the Paki team management and board was with each other.

If they were a brand, the Pakistani cricket team wouldn’t find many takers. But as is often the case in the sub continent, emotion and not logic, gets you back in the reckoning. And even though the Pakis (on taking the field again) were booed by a clueless crowd at the Oval – on TV networks across hostile India, over 65% backed Pakistan’s cause. Overall, the entire subcontinent appears united in this alleged “tampering” with Inzi’s izaat.

But with major cricket stories breaking every week – and Dean Jones’ “terrorist” remark, South Africa’s pull-out and India’s 15 minutes of match practice nearly forgotten, one wonders, how long will this one last. Hopefully, not as long as it threatens to – Over to Kuala Lumpur and some live cricket.

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