February 1, 2011

Ad nauseum

If this is any indication of what is to come during the World Cup – and from many available indicators, the South Africa v India series was just a dry run – one can rest assured it will be ad-vantage India

The second decade of the XXI Century has begun with quite a few teams staking claims to the upcoming World Cup. It had also begun with the US team fighting to be able to someday stake claims to an upcoming World Cup. Massiah & Co. were in Hong Kong fighting the fights that could have confirmed a permanent place for them in the ICC’s World Cricket League Division 3 and in US cricketing lore. Two years and a jump up to WCL Div 4 from the wastelands of cricket is still a commendable effort.

None of what the US team did to get to Div 4 was visible to their followers back home. We were only dependent on written reports and live, typed updates on the internet provided from the grounds in Canada, Nepal, Italy and Hong Kong. It was an ironic throwback to what now seems like an ancient way of following live sporting events, especially because one of the most modernised countries of the world was participating in it.

What takes this irony to siderotic levels is the fact that I am currently in India, not yet a truly modernised society by my yardstick, and yet following cricket in what seems like a glimpse into the future of following live sporting events. The first sight of two advertising signs popping up, one in front of the slip fielders and another where leg slip would have been for Morne Morkel, made me jump off the couch while watching a Test match between India and South Africa. The fact that some of us old friends had gathered to drift back to old times couldn’t hide this jarring image even from our deficient attention spans. None of us had heard of the brand that was being advertised; needless to say the product it belonged to.

A few days later, we got together again for what is emerging as a formidable coupling on this trip to India: cricket and alcohol. This time, it was the last few ODIs that India and South Africa would get to play before they each go about staking that claim I mentioned earlier. By now, we had become begrudgingly accustomed to those “slip pop-ups”. There was more.

All of a sudden a huge bomb explodes at midwicket and there is some smoke billowing from the ensuing crater. Who was at midwicket? Oh, poor Johann Botha. He had just dropped a catch at midwicket and probably wished he had been swallowed by the earth underneath him. But has his wish come true? Silence engulfed the room as we watched the rest of the fielders go about their business rather nonchalantly. A massive mobile phone flew out of the crater within a second, much to our relief that quickly gave way to bitter contempt.

In another twisted tale, for all the billions of bits and minutes of “Buffering …” one had to sit through in the 90s and early 2000s to watch an international cricket match in the USA, things are much more viewer-friendly there now than they are for an Indian viewer with supposedly unlimited access to international cricket. I had left the US shores for my current trip, already armed with the knowledge that watching cricket in the USA was a privilege because I didn’t have to put up with the gross sight of an already over-weight Rohit Sharma getting squeezed to obese proportions so that the extra space created on the screen could fit in an ad for healthy cookies. Thanks to the official rights holder of cricket webcasts in the USA, whose main revenue source is a pool of paying subscribers such as yours truly, we don’t have to deal with annoying advertisements even in between overs. We get to watch a cricket match at its pace and even get to watch instant replays of wickets – what an absolute waste of ad time! When it rains, we even get to watch the groundsmen go about their entire process of first keeping the pitch dry – something the Lankans have choreographed and set-designed into an art form, I learnt – and later draining the water off the ground, thanks to the raw feed that stays on during interruptions.

What I was not ready for was the frustration of not being able to watch the last ball of overs which have one or two extra balls in them. Nor was I prepared to have exploding midwickets and giant thrones dropping out of the sky onto, you guessed it, midwicket. While I do find the creativity of the folks who come up with these pixel-pinching advertisement models admirable at some level, it is the seemingly utter disregard for the quality of the fundamental product being presented – the cricket match, I’m sure it has to be reminded – that is quite bothersome because things have reached a point where the actual happenings on the cricket field are being prevented from being seen either legibly or completely by the viewer.

If this is any indication of what is to come during the World Cup – and from many available indicators, the South Africa v India series was just a dry run – one can rest assured it will be ad-vantage India.