World Cup 2019: When India-Pakistan match becomes everything but cricket

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Is cricket’s biggest rivalry so bereft of talking points, that the stakeholders are talking about all but cricket. An India versus Pakistan cricket rivalry will today leave behind an Ashes in impact, audience and commercial values. It will be equivalent to Joe Frazier versus Muhammad Ali in a boxing ring; on a par with a Brazil-Argentina or Germany-Netherlands football match. Equivalent to a Super Bowl in NFL.

It can’t be bigger than this for a cricket broadcaster. For media and brands to seek commercial mileage. The glorious history of the Indo-Pak cricket, anecdotes, legends and icons the game has created over the decades enrich the sport and give a lot to talk about every time teams in Blue and Green flannels are up against each other on a cricket field. This one duel holds the potential to put all the battles on the backburner.

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Ironically, though, as India and Pakistan head to Old Trafford, Manchester, for their ICC World Cup 2019 league encounter on Sunday, June 16, the broadcaster, media and brands have all the bitterness to talk about, but the grandeur, fighting spirit, talent, commitment, burning desire to win, the emotions and all that make the sport a religion on either side of India’s western frontiers.

What is being discussed is all but sport. The spirit of promotional videos can be anything but sportsmanship. All for transforming this gentlemen’s sport into a commercial success by igniting the inherent disputes between the two nations.

Here are a few examples of how campaigns are living the animosities and dumping the sportsmanship.

Much before the teams meet on the field, media on the either side is engaged in a war to run down each other’s nation at the cost of substantial cricketing points.

Brands are not far behind either to cash in on the opportunity. Cricket has given the opportunity to invoke the sentiments of passionate fans who love their nation as much as they love the sport.

“The idea is simple. Cricket is a sport and being a sport there needs to be a certain degree of light-heartedness with which you need to play the sport. At the same time there is marketer as a broadcaster who has invested a solid amount of money. That kind of drums up a human sentiment to a very high decibel. That is the marketing angle which creates Abhinandan spoofs and mauka mauka campaigns,” says Harish Bijoor, brand and business strategist and owner of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

“Cricket itself is another important aspect. It is to be played with sportsmanship. The way game is played is more important than the sentiments being drummed up. This is the way people accept the sport and may the best team win.

“Then there is politics between the two countries. The political reality is that India and Pakistan are enemies number one. In such a circumstance do whatever it takes to whip up the enthusiasm and envy of the two nations to create high emotions, create high voltage expectation in the match and get the biggest viewerships.”

Beyond that diehard fan and passionate countrymen, there are corporate who thrive to achieve their targets drawn on excel sheets and ensure profits on their investments. Media houses, broadcasters and brands form the group that gives the sport much-needed financial muscle to survive and thrive. For them cricket becomes pure commerce.

“There are some people who think cricket is pure commerce. Believe it or not the truth may lie here rather than in the sport angle. Today commerce has high-jacked cricket and cricket has become less of a sport and more of commerce. When it goes to commerce, only this kind of things work,” adds Bijoor.

“Cricket is getting more competition than ever. Younger audience are more into EPL and European football. The stake holders want the frivolous audience for cricket, that’s why they are doing this. A hard core cricket follower will always watch the game campaigns or no campaigns. But for fence sitters the stakeholders tend to invoke national and human sentiments.”

But nothing prevails on the power cricket possesses in the Indian sub-continent. Come Sunday, as Virat Kohli and Sarfaraz Ahmed walk out on the Old Trafford turf for toss it will be pure cricket over the 100 overs. Weather permitting.

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