News by Sarb Johal 28/08/04
The Videocon Cup tournament was hailed as a firecracker competition between three ICC Champions Trophy favourites; India, Pakistan and Australia. The reality has turned out to be more of a damp squib. On the eve of the Videocon Cup final between Pakistan and Australia, let me share some ideas as to who the real winners and losers are likely to be.
The attraction of playing in the Tournament seems clear for the teams. Testing yourself against world-class competition in the weeks preceding a major tournament seems like sensible preparation, yet India has fared badly in this tournament and not just because of their lacklustre performances. Various injuries (most notably to Sachin) and lack of games due to the weather conditions mean India now have a big question mark above them, magnifying the little question mark that followed the Asia Cup. India’s batting again looked fragile, seeming to be psychologically bereft and directionless without their talisman. Moreover, they developed a worrying tendency to concede a lot of runs in the closing overs of the innings. Instead of helping to sort out some of the difficulties, India are now left with a team that will have had little opportunity for solving these problems by the time they arrive in England for the Natwest Challenge – another warm-up tournament to the ICC series.
Pakistan fared better in the tournament, gaining a second victory over India in a short space of time. The team looked disciplined and showed depth in both batting and bowling. At a ground where all the talk has been about the short straight boundaries and the sixes we could expect to see, it was a surprise to see the Pakistani slow bowlers take seven wickets between them on a stodgy, slow turning wicket. The only batsman who mastered the pitch was Ricky Ponting (v India), who looked in cracking form before being given out LBW after being struck on the back leg by a high-ish ball from Balaji – one of the few bright sparks for India. So, in terms of the teams, Pakistan will probably be happiest with the tournament outcome and India the most disappointed.
However, modern cricket is not just about what happens on the field of play. One major new stakeholder is Videocon and my guess is they are none too happy about the way the tournament has turned out. The rain delay on the sell-out opening day match between India and Pakistan meant that Sharouk Khan was not able to participate in the rumoured Gala Opening of the tournament. As the tournament unfolded and the rain continued to fall, the Sony SET TV executives looked increasingly fraught with thoughts of diminishing advertising revenue. Mandira Bedi managed to smile through the cloudbursts in a valiant attempt to keep viewing figures up.
The stakeholders who will have lost most from this venture are the local organisers – the Royal Dutch Cricket Association (KNCB). The combination of rain, agreed revenue arrangements and limited tournament organisation experience may have left the KNCB in a very precarious position. My sources inform me that protracted negotiations over sponsors, TV rights and revenue streams meant the tournament only got the official go-ahead some eight weeks before the first game. The revenue agreement meant the various National Cricket Boards retained the sponsors / TV revenue, whereas the KNCB would keep the gate receipts. There were no reserve days scheduled for rained-off match days and there was no rain check insurance for spectators. If it rained, that’s cricket – no refunds. This also means if people did not come to watch the matches, the KNCB would be left out of pocket.
One of the aims of the tournament was to increase the profile of cricket in The Netherlands and the profile of Dutch cricket in ICC circles. In a nation where only around 3500 of the registered 6000 club cricket players are active, an increased profile could prove very helpful. Unfortunately, the games were severely rain-affected and were played in a nation avidly following the progress of their hockey teams in the Olympics. Additionally, the national TV station were allowed only 1 minute of videotape by the exclusive rights broadcaster consisting mainly of crowd shots of India v Pakistan. In terms of increasing the national profile of cricket, I was left wondering about the short-term effects of the Videocon Cup - nobody Dutch I talked to seemed to know about it. I even got directed to the wrong ground, some 10km away, by the Tourist Information Office in Amsterdam.
Perhaps more damaging for the KNCB was the intervention by the Police to control the entry of fans to the ground on the opening day of the tournament. Starting the tournament with the most challenging game in terms of crowd management (India v Pakistan) always looked an interesting decision. Filing 10,000 fans through a 15-foot square entry point looked crazy and at around 11am the Police agreed. The gates were opened and tickets were not checked as the fans flooded through. I heard of no public order issues as a result of this Police intervention, but the KNCB (and ICC) cannot view this as a success in terms of tournament organisation. Hopefully, this will be a learning experience and many would be encouraged to see the tournament played in The Netherlands again.
At time of writing this article, Pakistan and Australia are still to play in the Final. I hope the weather holds out for them and the KNCB – but the forecast looks decidedly rainy. The biggest winners of the tournament are likely to be the airlines and the tour companies. Several thousand Indian and Pakistani fans made pilgrimages to Amstelveen from the UK, North America and South Asia itself. There are few sports where you see 10,000 fans from around the world travelling to watch two teams in a neutral country where the game is played at a non-professional level. It’s a crazy idea and they nearly pulled it off. Next time, I’d run the tournament in July, not at the same time as the Olympics (or the soccer World Cup) and get some decent insurance in place for the organisers and the spectators.
Oh yes, and schedule reserve days for the small, but mostly inevitable possibility of rain.