It was a second coming in every sense of the word. Inaugural champions Islamabad United once again lay claim to the throne in what could most readily be described as a ‘do or die’ game of the coveted PSL. At the heart of IU’s renaissance was wicket keeping extraordinaire, Luke Ronchi, who scored a rapid-fire 52 runs off a mere 26 balls to help the red devils clinch their second title while becoming the highest run scorer of the tournament in the process.

For those present at the venue, the atmosphere at the National Stadium, Karachi was electrifying – and for a good reason. Like a prodigal son, cricket had found its way home to the city after 9-years of absence with a crunch thriller no less that made it their money’s worth.

The not so lucky resorted to watching Ronchi make short work of Zalmi’s bowling attack on their television sets – with one crucial difference: The idiot box interrupted the sweet sound of willow on leather to the degree that was almost perverted.

Stop me if this sounds familiar…

Commentator: “What a shot! That one has gone miles into the stands…”

Cut immediately to commercials mid-air: “Ariel Ariel hoooo hooooo…”

Head meet wall.

Television broadcasters, it seems, are just another vital component of the capitalist machinery churning profits at warp speed. Gone are the days when a single sponsor highlighted a cricketing tournament of significance. The massive surge in popularity of the sport, especially its T-20 format in recent years, has paved the way for advertisers of all shapes and sizes to hurriedly jump onto the cricketing bandwagon and claim a piece of the revenue pie. What started off with the identification of the sport of cricket as a brilliant marketing platform owing to its popularity among the masses, has now mutated into an ad-war that doesn’t hesitate in cutting to commercials abruptly while play is still in session. The invasion of advertisements is intrusive to such a degree that it’s become hard to separate the ‘tournament’ from its ‘coverage’. The unchecked conflation now results in a broadcast of the sport that is, for all intents and purposes, laughable.

Although PCB’s efforts to revive international cricket in Pakistan are commendable, its marketing honchos, on the other hand, are leaving no stones unturned to ensure the decision of what to broadcast during a game rests solely with sponsors, even if it means the inexcusable and largely illegitimate censoring of the game during the telecast.

The bombardment of ads has become so frequent that it is become common practice to rudely cut to commercials before the ball even reaches the boundary or while an umpire contemplates an appeal. There are atrocious breaks between overs; each over, in fact. Not every 5-overs that would still yield a reasonable profit for PCB, but every single over, so much so that it is common to see a 5-ball over because the ad overstayed its welcome. All this in addition to the appalling pop-up advertisements that occupy about a quarter of the screen appearing randomly during deliveries.

Then there is branding dispersed throughout the game itself. In case of the PSL, there was the “Loot Lo Strategic Timeout”; the “J. Straight Drive”; the “Cool n Cool Moment” thus creating an entirely unnecessary space for marketers to further integrate their brands and influence the broadcast according to their whims.

There’s etiquette in a skipper tactically setting his field; there’s prose in a batsman taking guard; there’s conviction in a fast bowler running like a freight train towards the bowling end; there’s adrenaline in a fielder’s jubilant celebration of an impossible catch. All these moments make the beloved sport of cricket momentous, which the broadcasters have decided singlehandedly that you the viewer are not worthy of seeing.

This by no means implies that one shouldn’t make money off the game. Yes, revenue is vital to sustain the business of sport in the long run. But it is also important to acknowledge that unlike minor sports like hockey or squash, cricket enjoys a status in the country that is second to none. It is the crown jewel of all sporting events in our neck of the woods that will only continue to grow organically in the foreseeable future. As a result, avenues to make profits off cricket are in no short supply. What’s needed is to tap these channels more efficiently so that the essence of what makes cricket such a hit with people remains untainted by marketing gimmicks which are making it hard to romanticize the beloved sport.

Till that happens, please don’t interrupt my ad-watching experience with moments of cricket.

 

The writer is a researcher.

@fahadmalik