Channels challenged as never before

NOW that the 'Sony-Mahiwal' team of Ruby and Charu is not due back on the sightscreen until the World Cup starting early Feb. 2003, we swim the 'English' Channel as best we can with DD. Tender were the DD mercies by which those three India-Windies Tests came to us only in English. Or only in Hindi for those on the 'Najafgarh Ka Sehwagon' wavelength. Let us hope it remains this DD way through the seven ODIs, now, and for all time thereafter. One point though. Should espnstar not be counting its blessing in having DD (rather than Sherry) as the one to pick up those left-behind SonyMax commentary gems? Ruby in her own 'Neeta's Natter' trail-blazing style, if espnstar had indeed been the one to follow SetMax now, could have litmus tested this twin channel into venturing to be one-up on her Sony in Asia. Thereby possibly impelling espnstar to take up the razzledazzle mike just where Maria had handed it back to Charu.

As Dr. Jekyll on DD now, 'Mr. Hybrid' is something Charu Sharma is no longer called upon to be. While, on SonyMax with its accent on gloss and glam, Charu did not have to worry overmuch about where to draw the body-line. The line of vision for cricket channels, how it has metamorphosed with the Mini World Cup Premadasa gatecrash by Sony! Leaving DD alone untouched, WISDEN 20-20. In this third-eye light it is that viewers are going to be deadly keen to observe the avatar in which espnstar reinvents itself, come January 2003 and those seven one-dayers in New Zealand. 'Kiwishful' thinking it might be to assume that espnstar would remain totally untouched by the Sony razzmatazz. And Fevistick to its set style.

Boycott espnstar no Indian viewer can bring himself to do. There you have the Geoffrey leg peg on which espnstar stands or falls as we usher in 2003. Geoffrey is on STAR record as hoping to be there at least by the hour India's seven ODIs in New Zealand tick off to herald the new year. But espnstar has only Geoffrey's ailing word for it that he is sure to hit the 'Kiwillowy' track by mid-January 2003. Geoffrey's return is crucial to espnstar in the matter of this twin-timing channel remaining crickety - in a concerted effort to settle its pattern of Indian cricket coverage for the seven long years to come. Don't forget, all big cricket to be played - not only by India abroad - is with espnstar, now, almost through the decade. So that this channel challenged has to decide, here and now, how seriously it continues to scan and span the game in terms of its vital Indian connection. What must concern espnstar is its going all out to raise TV coverage standards to rational levels afresh - only for the shapely Sony to bend over Shilpa Shetty backwards in pushing the game to Rectangle One, all over again! A rectangle in which, as Sony's Haryana-branded ambassador, Kapil Dev is free to play the SetMax field.

Short cover point - no matter what espnstar now does to uplift cricket to heights by which the play is the thing, it has to learn to live with Sony during those six early-2003 weeks during which 'The World' is our oyster. No precious stone is Ruby going to leave unturned to see that Sony gets trendier and trendier by moving more and more outside the game. Even while arty-craftily remaining within it. To this end, icon Zakir Husain on the tabla it could well be, on SonyMax next, to tap out a neo World Cup rhythm on the catchy lines of "Om cricketaya namah!" How TV's meretricious mainstream has picked up the Khushwant Singh knack of screaming while selling! Recall how that Super Sardar became a cult figure as he launched his Mario Bulb 'Editor's Page' with the "Om Ganeshaya namah!" mantra! The genie thus out of the Sherry bottle, what is cricket if not a trade-off on TV today? A trade-off in which DD it is in the dubious 'middle of nowhere'.

As Sony swings to one extreme, away from it all. While espnstar, as the one bred to stay the seven-year course, remains cent per cent with the game. For all the escapist antics of Guran Singh.

The sad danger inherent in Sony re-arriving with the 2003 World Cup, of course, is that espnstar, too, goes filmi gimmicky - 'in anticipation'. Viewers here can but hope that espnstar knows its true metier as 'playing in the V' - as a twin channel remote from those heroes and heroines Bollywooden as Bollywooden could be. The one pitfall espnstar must steer clear of is projecting Sherry as its filmi counter to Sony. For Sherry is just not one commanding the style of Hinglish you need to out-Sony Sony. Sherry's forte is shairi Urdu - in a mock sentimental vein of 'Kabhie khud pe kabhie haalaat pe rona aaya'. Subtleties of the imagination going over Mr. Everyman's head. At the other extremity, it could be Navjot taking off with that airhostess for a 'sixy' destination knowing no sexy end. What we viewers want is plain robust common sense in the matter of keeping the game free of glitzy marketing forces that only devalue cricket, live cricket. Even as we concede that channels have to revalue themselves in tune with the tone and tempo of the times. Times in which the twain, Sri and Sridevi, can meet. Leaving Sri to introspect upon whether 'going to tinseltown' is what hard-hitting cricket fans really want him to do.