Saturday, 18 April 2009

No Country for old captains

IPL has really been a marketing case study.

Hardly anyone follows Indian domestic cricket these days. IPL, with its concept of city based teams, was a brave venture. Especially after the ICL floundered. So the IPL built teams around 'icons' who were the stars of Indian cricket - Sachin, Ganguly, Dhoni, Dravid, Sehwag, Yuvraj and Laxman. Each had been captains or at least vice captains of India.

What was glossed over was that a number of these icons were nearing retirement. Not the ideal state to be in for this high adrenalin version of cricket. The purpose of the organisers were served with advertising building regional identities and teams positioned across brand ambassadors.

Kotler would have approved - demographic segmentation, brand identity - no business school grad could have scripted this better.

There was a slight hitch. A number of the icons didn't perform in the first version. Sachin didn't play through most of IPL one thanks to an injury. Dravid and Laxman floundered and were swiftly, though discreetly, dumped by their team owners through reasons such as paternity breaks and injuries.

The problem was with Saurav Ganguly. His team didn't do too well. A number of star players were passengers and played in one or two matches. His own performances were patchy with a few man of the matches at one side and some poor plays on the other.

He also had a penchant for Australian coaches whom he would recommend and who would later blame him for all ills barring poissibly the nine eleven attacks.

A game of cloak and dagger followed to remove him from the captaincy of the Knight Riders. The questions on his captaincy, the four captain theory startted it off.

These were different from the quiet removals of Dravid and Laxman though. TThe difference was that Saurav captained the Kolkata team. Kolkata is the land of Bengalis, a very passionate race. We are amongst the biggest fans of sport in the country. But have rarely produced a sporting icon. Ganguly was the only Bengali cricketer of note in quite a few decades. Many are die hard followers of him. His sheer presence made Bengalis across the globe unite for the Knight Riders team. And, while he has detractors, there are enough non Bengalis who supported him for his edgy petulance.

The team managment knew that slighting Saurav would upset all his supporters. So began a game of subterfuge where the team management slowly began to move him out from the captaincy as they moved out of Kolkata and then India.

As we used to say as kids, it is easy to brave in another mohalla or, in this case, subcontinent. It is not easy to take on the lion in his den.

It was really pathetic to see Buchanan and SRK to go to the other end of the world before they had the guts to dump Ganguly. If they were convinced about what they were doing then they should have come clean and removed him from captaincy in India itself. The manner of how they have done this was also not quite cricket. They announced this at a press conference without getting Saurav on board The sight of Buchanan stating his whip with Ganguly looking away was ugly. I know people who are not Ganguly fans take umbrage at this I doubt whether so much dirty linen was ever washed even in Mumbai's famed dhobi ghats!

The management would say something. See the public outrage. Retract. The circus repeated itself with SRK telling Gavaskar that the latter didn't understand T 20 cricket. Retract. Say Ganguly was in charge. And then dump him through a press release the day before IPL.

In fact there have been some who have wondered if this was carefully scripted for media attention and interest. The entire scenario is so weird that it is difficult to dismiss this conspiracy theory.

I wanted to buy a Kolkata Knight Rider last year. With an Aussie coach and Kiwi captain I think I am better off throwing my lot behind my adopted city of Mumbai.

I am sure the ANZ Knightriders will find enough supporters in the Southern hemisphere.

Taj Mahal...South Africa's latest attraction

IPL 2 started today.

Two matches. Razzmatazz. An opening ceremony with Zulu dancers. Everyone going gaga over the logistics at South Africa.

To start with a change of scene on telly from Manmohan Singh and Advani expressing their hurt with each other and animated TV panelists dissecting this.

But IPL 2 has been a hot potato so far. Political differences, impatience, inflated egos, the lure of lucre led to its shifting across the hemisphere. Doesn't matter that India, in the process, got clubbed with Pakistan as a place where it is unsafe to play cricket.

Soon after this happened some country refused to come to India to play the Davis Cup! Close to thirteen people come to watch a Davis Cup match in comparison to cricket. But we have layed ourselves bare to potshots from across.

Hopefully the matches will be closer than what we saw on day one.

Matches in South Africa. Captained by foreigners. Coached by foreigners. Wouldn't 'International' be a better word for the I in IPL?