A tremendous marketing success

EVENTFUL in more ways than one, cricket's showpiece, the World Cup, was pushed into the recesses of history last fortnight. So much had been written and commented upon it for over six months that it is impossible to add a new dimension.

EVENTFUL in more ways than one, cricket's showpiece, the World Cup, was pushed into the recesses of history last fortnight. So much had been written and commented upon it for over six months that it is impossible to add a new dimension. Arguably, it was a tremendous marketing success, evoking greater interest than ever. The Intenational Cricket Council could look back on the event with satisfaction, although irritants at the start in three different countries were many and complex. There were political overtones, security risks and controversies over ambush marketing, sponsorships, contracts and what not.

That the World Cup coursed through the maze of incidents to a magnificent climax has to be highlighted. It underscored the value and intensity of a sport, which attracts a huge viewership despite the fact that as yet it is not truly a global discipline like soccer, athletics or tennis. The decision to increase the number of participating teams to 14 was only aimed at widening the base.

Eyebrows were raised when combinations like the Netherlands, Canada, and Namibia pitched in along with Kenya and Bangladesh. These lightweight squads, with the exception of Bangladesh, had something to recall and rejoice. Bangladesh was a total disappointment, making many wonder whether it has the right credentials to be a Test-playing nation. Kenya, of course, had the most memorable moments, surpassing all expectations.

Striking, however, was the spontaneous approbation for the champion. Australia possessed the ingredients to hit the top and did so imperiously. The main strength lay in individual proficiency, that blended into extraordinary team-work, offering a balance which no one else possessed in the same measure. That Australia conquered India twice, including the final, and comprehensively at that, underscores its all-round efficiency, the hallmark of which was professionalism. Added to these was the commendable leadership of Ricky Ponting, whose incandescent batting in the final can proudly be the theme for ballads and verses.

Any assessment ignoring the individual brilliance of Sachin Tendulkar will be unjustified. As Ali Bacher, the man behind the event, rightly said, it was Sachin's capacity to capture the audience all over that lifted the whole aspect of the competition into a different realm of excellence. Appropriately enough, Sachin beat everyone in the race for Man of the Tournament prize.

Catalouging the bright spots alone will do little to mask the imperfections. The ICC must pay immediate attention to them in order to fine-tune the event before it moves to the West Indies for the next edition. The complexities that develop when more than one country comes into the picture as host must be minimised. It is becoming increasingly frustrating to witness teams forefeiting matches for one reason or the other. Australia and West Indies refused to travel to Sri Lanka in 1996. In Africa, England gave away the tie to Zimbabwe citing security concerns in Harare, while New Zealand did not go to Nairobi for its match against Kenya. Such aberrations should not be allowed to persist if the World Cup is to live up as a competition to determine the best in the business.

One valid criticism that the ICC must debate relates to the format. Stretching the competition for more than six weeks and increasing the list of participants resulted in several mismatches, exaggerating the value of individual performances. Measures aimed at capsuling the World Cup in a three-week time-frame with a less complicated system of computing points and run-rate have to be explored. It goes without saying, however, that the ICC must review the contents of the Duckworth-Lewis principle so as to make them understandable for everyone. In the present form, the exercise of calculating the runs and overs ratio when matches are affected by rain is extremely difficult, however foolproof, the system is claimed to be, designed as it is by two thorough professionals.

Now that the ICC has understood the commercial value of a venture like the World Cup, it is likely to be tempted to work more on new levers at marketing, opening more avenues for member countries. The ICC's confrontation with the Board of Control for Cricket in India both during the Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka and also before the World Cup now proved a bad advertisement for the sport. Interestingly, a majority of the Boards experienced difficulties in sorting out contractual problems with their players before the event.

It is time the ICC and its constituents decided on drawing the line on such problem areas so that marketing a very saleable sport acquires more sophistication. It should not be allowed to degenerate into continued sophistry which clouds the whole exercise in mistrust and acrimony making scapegoats of players who are really the valued elements in the business.

Admittedly, the lessons from the World Cup were many for the ICC and its members. How well they will read and understand their portents is indeed a matter of conjecture.