The World Cup and the media

The 2015 World Cup in Australia is expected to surpass all the editions as far as media coverage is concerned. It is indeed a big departure from the inaugural edition when only the radio and newspapers brought the game to the fans, writes Vijay Lokapally.

When Clive Lloyd lifted the Prudential World Cup in 1975, we just visualised the scenes of celebration at Lord’s, brought home by a team of commentators on BBC. With the transistor crackling, the narration led by John Arlott, a master at work, was the lone source for cricket followers to know the latest score as West Indies rightfully claimed the honours with a fantastic victory over Australia.

My friend would tilt his transistor even as most of us held our breath, silently praying for the ‘connection’ to stay. The commentator’s voice would trail off and then make a healthy return, much to our delight. Television was unheard of in those days and radio was the surest, and quickest, way to gather the latest news from London.

The World Cup, over the years, has grown with huge commercial gains for the cricket authorities. So has the media coverage of the event, second only to the FIFA World Cup and Olympics in terms of viewership. It was hardly that big when the Cup was launched in 1975. Cricket lovers would rely on newspapers and magazines to lap up the specialised write-ups.

The 1975 Cup did catch the attention of the cricket world and the next edition four years later, again in England, saw an increase in sponsorship and with it the media coverage. For us, the access, however, remained limited. Again, radio was the lone source. One had to get hold of British newspapers in libraries to know the inside stuff since television was yet to make its mark in India.

It was a big leap for the Indian fans when Kapil Dev and his team made history in 1983. The tournament saw an improved coverage. As the Indian team made news and progressed stunningly, it dawned on the authorities to bring the matches live to the drawing rooms in India. When Kapil’s team made it to the semifinals, there was a flurry among the cricket fans to catch up on the action. There was a surge in the sale of television sets and All India Radio (AIR) relayed the BBC commentary to celebrate the deeds of the team which went on to win the Cup. Major newspapers had inputs from the spot from their correspondents.

The World Cup came to the sub-continent and finally reached out to the masses through radio, television and newspapers. A dedicated coverage of the tournament helped in popularising the sport and also in enhancing the understanding of the game as former players were roped in as experts in all the available mediums. The cricket fan had so much to devour as the Cup proved a massive success even though the co-hosts, India and Pakistan, bowed out in the semifinals.

Australia was the host in 1992 and it was a cricket treat for the fans with the Channel Nine commentary team, headed by the legendary Richie Benaud, adding to the lustre of some wonderful camera work. There was, of course, the radio to keep you engrossed, but waking up early and watching the thrillers from Australia left many bleary-eyed at workplaces.

When the Cup returned to the sub-continent in 1996, it had grown into a television spectacle. Satellite television enhanced the quality of the picture and also led to specialised coverage with some of the biggest names in the game sharing their views in the media.

Internet was transforming world communication when England hosted the 1999 edition. The cricket fan was fed with some vintage stuff as former greats, drawn from different nations, analysed the game and gave a new dimension to the coverage part. There was emphasis on specialised discussions and debates. Cricket was promising to become a global game.

The 2003 and 2007 editions saw varied responses. Newpapers and news channels were willing to invest in a grand coverage of the World Cup. The 2003 Cup in South Africa was better received than the edition in the Caribbean four years later. India’s early exit in 2007 and the odd times of the telecast took the charm out of the Cup coverage in the sub-continent. It was the worst reported and documented of all the World Cup editions.

In 2011 the World Cup held the attention of the nation. The matches attracted greater coverage through various platforms. The traditionalists relied on the newspapers apart from following the contests on television and radio, but the young generation had the social media to rely upon. Updates on mobile phones kept the fans abreast as internet reached out in a mind-boggling manner.

Cricket was big. Its coverage was bigger. The improved coverage has indeed made the cricket World Cup a much-analysed and documented event. Every action is scrutinised and debated in the media. It adds to the pressure on the players. It also makes them alert to the demands of the media. Cricket, essentially, owes the amazing attention it commands to the media.

The 2015 World Cup in Australia is expected to surpass all the editions as far as media coverage is concerned. It is indeed a big departure from the inaugural edition when only the radio and newspapers brought the game to the fans.