Harsha Bhogle: The rise of cricket, the rise of India
November 11, 2009
The tale of a major global cultural phenomenon: Cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle describes the spectacular arrival of fast-paced 20-20 cricket as it parallels the rise of modern India. He traces the game from its sleepy English roots to the current world of celebrity owners and million-dollar player contracts.Harsha Bhogle
- Cricket commentator
Harsha Bhogle can talk about the business side of cricket, the technicalities of play and the psychology of the players with equal authority. Full bio
Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
So, what I'm going to do is
just give you the latest episode of India's --
maybe the world's -- longest running soap opera,
which is cricket.
And may it run forever, because it gives people like me a living.
It's got everything that you'd want a normal soap opera to want:
It's got love, joy, happiness,
sadness, tears, laughter,
lots of deceit, intrigue.
And like all good soaps, it jumps 20 years
when the audience interest changes.
And that's exactly what cricket has done.
It's jumped 20 years
into 20-over game.
And that's what I'm going to talk about,
how a small change
leads to a very big revolution.
But it wasn't always like that.
Cricket wasn't always this
speed-driven generations game.
There was a time when you played cricket,
you played timeless test matches,
when you played on till the game got over.
And there was this game in March 1939
that started on the third of March
and ended on the 14th of March.
And it only ended because the English cricketers
had to go from Durban to Cape Town,
which is a two-hour train journey,
to catch the ship that left on the 17th,
because the next ship wasn't around for a long time.
So, the match was ended in between.
And one of the English batsmen said, "You know what?
Another half an hour and we would have won."
Another half an hour after 12 days.
There were two Sundays in between. But of course, Sundays are church days,
so you don't play on Sundays. And one day it rained,
so they all sat around making friends with each other.
But there is a reason why India fell in love with cricket:
because we had about the same pace of life.
The Mahabharata was like that as well, wasn't it?
You fought by day, then it was sunset,
so everyone went back home.
And then you worked out your strategy,
and you came and fought the next day, and you went back home again.
The only difference between the Mahabharata and our cricket was
that in cricket, everybody was alive to come back and fight the next day.
Princes patronize the game,
not because they love the game,
but because it was a means of ingratiating themselves
to the British rulers.
But there is one other reason why India fell in love with cricket,
which was, all you needed was a plank of wood
and a rubber ball, and any number of people
could play it anywhere.
Take a look:
You could play it in the dump
with some rocks over there,
you could play it in a little alley --
you couldn't hit square anywhere, because the bat hit the wall;
don't forget the air conditioning and the cable wires.
You could play it on the banks of the Ganges --
that's as clean as the Ganges has been for a long time.
Or you could play many games in one small patch of land,
even if you didn't know which game you were actually in.
As you can see, you can play anywhere.
But slowly the game moved on,
you know, finally.
You don't always have five days. So, we moved on,
and we started playing 50-over cricket.
And then an enormous accident took place.
In Indian sport we don't make things happen,
accidents happen and we're in the right place at the right time, sometimes.
And we won this World Cup in 1983.
And suddenly we fell in love with the 50-over game,
and we played it virtually every day.
There was more 50-over cricket than anywhere.
But there was another big date.
1983 was when we won the World Cup.
1991,'92, we found a finance minister
and a prime minister
willing to let the world look at India,
rather than be this great country of intrigue
and mystery in this closed country.
And so we allowed multinationals into India.
We cut customs duties, we reduced import duties,
and we got all the multinationals coming in,
with multinational budgets,
who looked at per-capita income
and got very excited about the possibilities in India,
and were looking for a vehicle to reach every Indian.
And there are only two vehicles in India -- one real, one scripted.
The scripted one is what you see in the movies,
the real one was cricket.
And so one of my friends sitting right here in front of me,
Ravi Dhariwal from Pepsi, decided he's going to take it
all over the world.
And Pepsi was this big revolution, because they started taking cricket all over.
And so cricket started becoming big;
cricket started bringing riches in.
Television started covering cricket. For a long time
television said, "We won't cover cricket
unless you pay us to cover it."
Then they said, "OK,
the next rights are sold for 55 million dollars.
The next rights are sold for 612 million dollars."
So, it's a bit of a curve, that.
And then another big accident happened in our cricket.
England invented 20 overs cricket,
and said, "The world must play 20 overs cricket."
Just as England invented cricket, and made the rest of the world play it.
Thank God for them.
And so, India had to go and play the T20 World Cup, you see.
India didn't want to play the T20 World Cup.
But we were forced to play it by an 8-1 margin.
And then something very dramatic happened.
We got to the final, and then this moment,
that will remain enshrined forever,
for everybody, take a look.
The Pakistani batsman trying to clear the fielder.
Announcer: And Zishan takes it! India wins!
What a match for a Twenty20 final.
India, the world champions.
India, T20 champions.
But what a game we had, M. S. Dhoni
got it right in the air, but Misbah-ul-Haq, what a player.
A massive, massive success:
India, the world TT champions.
Harsha Bhogle: Suddenly India discovered this power of 20-overs cricket.
The accident, of course, there, was that the batsman
thought the bowler was bowling fast.
If he had bowled fast, the ball would have gone where it was meant to go,
but it didn't go. And we suddenly discovered
that we could be good at this game.
And what it also did was
it led to a certain pride in the fact that India could be the best in the world.
It was at a time when investment was coming in,
India was feeling a little more confident about itself.
And so there was a feeling that there was great pride
in what we can do.
And thankfully for all of us,
the English are very good at inventing things,
and then the gracious people that they are,
they let the world become very good at it.
And so England invented T20 cricket,
and allowed India to hijack it.
It was not like reengineering that we do in medicine,
we just took it straight away, as is.
And so, we launched our own T20 league.
Six weeks, city versus city.
It was a new thing for us. We had only ever supported our country --
the only two areas in which India was very proud about
their country, representing itself on the field.
One was war, the Indian army, which we don't like to happen very often.
The other was Indian cricket.
Now, suddenly we had to support city leagues.
But the people getting into these city leagues
were people who were taking their cues from the West.
America is a home of leagues. And they said,
"Right, we'll build some glitzy leagues here in India."
But was India ready for it?
Because cricket, for a long time in India was always organized.
It was never promoted, it was never sold -- it was organized.
And look what they did with our beautiful, nice,
simple family game.
All of a sudden, you had that happening.
An opening ceremony to match every other.
This was an India that was buying Corvettes. This was an India that was buying Jaguar.
This was an India that was adding more mobile phones per month
than New Zealand's population twice over.
So, it was a different India.
But it was also a slightly more orthodox India
that was very happy to be modern,
but didn't want to say that to people.
And so, they were aghast when the cheerleaders arrived.
Everyone secretly watched them, but everyone claimed not to.
The new owners of Indian cricket were not the old princes.
They were not bureaucrats who were forced
into sport because they didn't actually love it;
these were people who ran serious companies.
And so they started promoting cricket big time,
started promoting clubs big time.
And they've started promoting them with huge money behind it.
I mean the IPL had 2.3 billion dollars
before a ball was bowled,
1.6 billion dollars for television revenue over 10 years,
and another 70 million dollars plus from all these franchises
that were putting in money. And then they had to appeal to their cities,
but they had to do it like the West, right? Because we are setting up leagues.
But what they were very good at doing
was making it very localized.
So, just to give you an example of how they did it --
not Manchester United style promotion,
but very Mumbai style promotion. Take a look.
Of course, a lot of people said, "Maybe they dance better than they play."
But that's all right. What it did also is it changed the way we looked at cricket.
All along, if you wanted a young cricketer,
you picked him up from the bylanes of your own little locality,
your own city, and you were very proud
of the system that produced those cricketers.
Now, all of the sudden, if you were to bowl a shot --
if Mumbai were to bowl a shot, for example,
they needn't go to Kalbadevi
or Shivaji Park or somewhere to source them,
they could go to Trinidad.
This was the new India, wasn't it? This was the new world,
where you can source from anywhere
as long as you get the best product at the best price.
And all of a sudden, Indian sport had awakened to the reality
that you can source the best product for the best price
anywhere in the world.
So, the Mumbai Indians flew in Dwayne Bravo from Trinidad and Tobago,
overnight. And when he had to go back to represent
the West Indies, they asked him, "When do you have to reach?"
He said, "I have to be there by a certain time, so I have to leave today."
We said, "No, no, no. It's not about when you have to leave;
it's about when do you have to reach there?"
And so he said, "I've got to reach on date X."
And they said, "Fine, you play to date X, minus one."
So, he played in Hyderabad, went, straight after the game,
went from the stadium to Hyderabad airport,
sat in a private corporate jet -- first refueling in Portugal,
second refueling in Brazil; he was in West Indies in time.
Never would India have thought on this scale before.
Never would India have said, "I want a player to play
one game for me, and I will use a corporate jet
to send him all the way back to Kingston, Jamaica
to play a game."
And I just thought to myself,
"Wow, we've arrived somewhere in the world, you know?
We have arrived somewhere. We are thinking big."
But what this also did was it started
marrying the two most important things in Indian cricket,
which is cricket and the movies in Indian entertainment.
There is cricket and the movies.
And they came together because people in the movies
now started owning clubs.
And so, people started going to the cricket to watch Preity Zinta.
They started going to the cricket to watch Shah Rukh Khan.
And something very interesting happened.
We started getting song and dance in Indian cricket.
And so it started resembling the Indian movies more and more.
And of course, if you were on Preity Zinta's team --
as you will see on the clip that follows -- if you did well,
you got a hug from Preity Zinta.
So that was the ultimate reason to do well. Take a look --
everyone's watching Preity Zinta.
And then of course there was Shah Rukh playing the Kolkata crowd.
We'd all seen matches in Kolkata,
but we'd never seen anything like this:
Shah Rukh, with the Bengali song, getting the audiences all worked up
for Kolkata -- not for India, but for Kolkata.
But take a look at this.
An Indian film star hugging a Pakistani cricketer
because they'd won in Kolkata.
Can you imagine?
And do you know what the Pakistani cricketer said?
"I wish I was playing for Preity Zinta's team."
But I thought I'd take this opportunity --
there's a few people from Pakistan in here.
I'm so happy that you're here
because I think we can show that we can both be together and be friends, right?
We can play cricket together, we can be friends.
So thank you very much for coming, all of you from Pakistan.
There was criticism too because they said,
"Players are being bought and sold?
Are they grain?
Are they cattle?"
Because we had this auction, you see.
How do you fix a price for a player?
And so the auction that followed
literally had people saying,
"Bang! so many million dollars for so-and-so player."
There it is.
Auctioneer: Going at 1,500,000 dollars. Chennai.
Shane Warne sold for 450,000 dollars.
HB: Suddenly, a game which earned its players 50 rupees a day --
so 250 rupees for a test match,
but if you finish in four days you only got 200.
The best Indian players who played every test match --
every one of the internationals, the top of the line players --
standard contracts are 220,000 dollars in a whole year.
Now they were getting 500,000 for six days' work.
Then Andrew Flintoff came by from England,
he got one and a half million dollars, and he went back and said,
"For four weeks, I'm earning more than Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard,
and I'm earning more than the footballers, wow."
And where was he earning it from? From a little club in India.
Could you have imagined that day would come?
One and a half million dollars for six weeks' work.
That's not bad, is it?
So, at 2.3 billion dollars before the first ball was bowled.
What India was doing, though, was benchmarking
itself against the best in the world,
and it became a huge brand.
Lalit Modi was on the cover of Business Today.
IPL became the biggest brand in India
and, because our elections, had to be moved to South Africa,
and we had to start the tournament in three weeks.
Move a whole tournament to South Africa in three weeks.
But we did it. You know why?
Because no country works as slowly as we do
till three weeks before an event,
and nobody works fast as we do in the last three weeks.
Our population, which for a long time we thought was a problem,
suddenly became our biggest asset
because there were more people watching --
the huge consuming class --
everybody came to watch the cricket.
We'd also made cricket the only sport in India,
which is a pity, but in India every other sport
pushes cricket to become big,
which is a bit of a tragedy of our times.
Now, this last minute before I go --
there's a couple of side effects of all this.
For a long time, India was this country of poverty,
snake charmers, filth,
Delhi belly -- people heard Delhi belly stories before they came.
And, all of a sudden, India was this land of opportunity.
Cricketers all over the world said,
"You know, we love India. We love to play in India."
And that felt good, you know?
We said, "The dollar's quite powerful actually."
Can you imagine, you've got the dollar on view
and there's no Delhi belly in there anymore.
There's no filth, there's no beggars, all the snake charmers have vanished,
everybody's gone. This tells you how the capitalist world rules.
Right so, finally,
an English game that India usurped a little bit,
but T20 is going to be the next missionary in the world.
If you want to take the game around the world,
it's got to be the shortest form of the game.
You can't take a timeless test to China and sit through 14 days with no result in the end,
or you can't take it all over the world.
So that's what T20 is doing.
Hopefully, it'll make everyone richer, hopefully it'll make the game bigger
and hopefully it'll give cricket commentators more time in the business.
Thank you very much. Thank you.
- Cricket commentator
Harsha Bhogle can talk about the business side of cricket, the technicalities of play and the psychology of the players with equal authority.Why you should listen
IIM-A alum and former Rediffusion ad man Harsha Bhogle has been called “the voice of Indian cricket” -- he's India's premier cricket commentator and columnist. Beloved for his insightful patter, he writes a weekly cricket column for Indian Express and interviews top cricketers on ESPNStar's Harsha UnPlugged.
He's been the front man for ESPNStar cricket telecasts from the day they launched in India. Now he has taken to the corporate lecture circuit with his wife and business partner, Anita, applying the wisdom of the game to help companies develop compelling business strategies.
The original video is available on TED.com