First published on TheHoot.org
The recently concluded Champions Trophy Cricket tournament in Sri Lanka was a washout in more ways than one. We may not have had an outright winner, but there was definitely an outright loser - Sony Entertainment Television (SET). The channel which has won the rights to telecast next years World Cup in South Africa took cricket programming to abysmal depths with its show 'extra innings' that appeared before, after and in the innings break of the ODIs.
To begin with, Charu Sharma is no Harsha Bhogle though that really isn't his fault. In fact to sympathize, one could see how uncomfortable he was in the idiotic format that, I suppose, was thrust upon him. Its one thing for a recorded voice to accompany an ad that says "Super Sixes brought to you by so and so..". Its downright demeaning on the other hand for a sports journalist to be saying, "We'll get back to you Krish, after we take a look at the Kwik 4s package - Kwik ho paas to dard khalas". After the montage of boundaries, we're back in the studio to hear Charu repeating "Well that presentation was brought to you by Kwik, Kwik ho paas to dard khalas! Getting back to you Tony, what do you think ." In fact most of Charu's time was spent interrupting the experts to tell them that there was "lots more to talk about after this next package". Montages are entertaining to watch, especially when Sehwag is in this kind of form. But there is a concept known as "too much of a good thing" and SET totally overdid it. Some of the packages were ludicrous and it was obvious that they had been made for the product and not the other way around. Shouldn't special packages be conceived for their relevance to the game so that a company can then decide whether it deems sponsorship fit, depending on the image of its brand.
Now Ruby Bhatia has been singled out for so much ridicule that I almost feel sorry for her. Some feminist friends told me I was being an MCP when I commented after the opening match that Ruby stuck out like a sore thumb. "Just because she's a woman invading a man's game" was their retort. The ironic part is that the reason she was put there in the first place should raise any feminist's ire. It's quite obvious that she's been put there PRECISELY because of the predominantly male viewer-ship and because she's part of the 'entertainment.' Considering her knowledge of cricket is non-existent we all know what part of the entertainment she was contributing to. India Today's Sharda Ugra is right up there as a top cricket writer and Star's Sonali Chunder is probably the best sports newscaster in the country. The issue was never about women. It's about people who know something about the game. Ruby just consolidated the stereotypical image of women being ignorant of cricket by perennially behaving like the dressed-up doll watching her first cricket match. Patronising men answering her idiot questions probably negates any effort made towards destroying the stereotype, on the pitch by the Indian women's cricket team. Little wonder that a curvaceous damsel with an exotic name was the host of the Indiatimes SMS prediction game in the same studio. Incidentally, one SMS question asked viewers to predict the number of times a fielder would crash into the advertising hoardings. W.G. must be turning in his grave.
Agreed - its entertainment after all. But one must realise that Indians take their cricket seriously. SET may have a strategy of focussing on cricket and Bollywood - but do we have to be forced to watch them being merged into one? Is anyone really interested in knowing at what position Fardeen Khan fielded for his school team? Or whether Arbaaz Khan prefers watching cricket on his home theatre system versus in a pub with his friends? The same bubbly attitude which makes a Ruby a hit as a VJ makes her look like a fool in a studio. The dance sequences are great on the movie screens - but do we need to be shown bollywood clips in a cricket studio?
The one that took the cake though was the tarot card reader - Ma Ritambara Devi. On one hand you have ESPN-STAR using cutting edge technology to make the LBW decision more scientific, and on the other we have SET-MAX bringing mumbo-jumbo into sport. Yes, people are entitled to their beliefs - but why force it upon the general population. What value it added to the programme I still don't understand but it was rather hilarious to watch. 'Ma' would make Ruby pick a card for a team and lo! It would be the 'Card of Integration' which was ostensibly interpreted to mean that the team would 'integrate' all its resources together. (Genius Holmes! You've done it again.) Another would be the 'Card of Shakti', which meant a team would come on to the field full of confidence and energy! When the team in question was Sri Lanka it was 'predicted' that the crowd support would help them.
A particularly hilarious incident occurred before the final when Ruby drew a card for India that showed a figure '8' who's lower region was black and upper white. 'Ma' said that this meant the Indians would 'begin in darkness and come to light" which implied that they would be jittery against the home team but slowly gain confidence. Charu asked her why it couldn't be from light to darkness since the direction wasn't indicated on the card in any way. Ruby saved a flustered 'Ma' by scolding Charu and telling him to stick to cricket rather than Tarot! Considering that if anything, the sunny weather eventually gave way to dark rain clouds, Charu may indeed have discovered a hidden talent!! One wonders why 'Ma' didn't bother to predict who would win the toss or any other such quantifiable parameter. In the end, the most unpredictable science of weather forecasting proved to be more reliable than tarot!
In the final analysis one can only say that the purist dreads what 'ideas' SET has for the World Cup. Could Charu Sharma be forced to spew lines such as "The Indians looked sprightly - Sprite bujhaye only pyaas, baki sab bakwaas'- on the field today." ? Or could we have Bejan Daruwala in the studio contemplating the fact that Saturn is poised menacingly over Sachin's birth star? Maybe the commentators will have former Miss Indias escorting them to their seats in the studio. Maybe the entire Lagaan team and not just Guran could be placed amongst the crowd. One thing is for sure - we'd all love to get back to Good ol' Geoffrey Boycott and even Sherry if we must. As for what SET is putting us through, Boycs would have only one ord ' "Rubyish!"