By Harsha Bhogle
rms are being rested, legs are being put up, there is a lull in Indian cricket. That is not bad, for batteries must be recharged, birthdays celebrated, even weddings performed. It is time for the cricket fanatic to deposit his passion elsewhere.
The sports fan can choose to visit world class tennis at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows, now that a wonderful young Swiss has been sighted. He could follow the remarkable career of Tiger Woods, who in the eyes of some is in a slump that has only brought him four tour wins this year! Or he could rejoice in the success of Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi, and those two veterans of Indian sport, Leander Paes and Dhanraj Pillai.
Actually India needs to rediscover another sport and might well have had, if the custodians of other sports had not made it so easy for cricket. If there is only one marketable sport in India, it is partly because the BCCI sold itself hard and because the others sold themselves short. Cricket needs a rival but the others are unwilling to play that role. They may talk about it, but playing it is a different matter.
Dhanraj Pillai Superstar
The raw, magnetic talent of Dhanraj Pillai is unfortunately staying hidden from Indian viewers. Pillai is made for television and stardom. Those breathtaking bursts of speed, like an unfettered cheetah, the long rebellious mop of hair, that ferocious desire driving untiring legs into the striking circle, and the emotional streak that can snap into either tears or dangerous open defiance. It is a great story, and Dhanraj Pillai can be television's dream child, but Indian hockey chooses not to show it. Lesser talents in other sports are being packaged far better.
The inability to market Pillai and through him, Indian hockey, is staggering. A gem languishes in a sport that chooses the worst possible brand image for itself. If Tendulkar played hockey, they could not have packaged him. In Pillai, Indian hockey probably has its own Tendulkar, more fiery in character, more fragile in temperament.
Sadly for Pillai, Indian hockey prefers to present an injured, rather than proud, look. They have done much right in the last few months, but they wear the wrong clothes. A winning side gets to stay in a rundown hotel, is made to fend for itself at airports, and is paid meagre sums of money. There is no shame in poverty, but there is no glory in presenting that picture all the time.
The viruses of Indian Sport
Hockey is languishing amidst the three viruses that seem to have proprietary rights over Indian sport. Pompous federations, abominable television and the inability to see the difference between philanthropy and sponsorship. At a time when sport needs to put its best foot forward to attract sport, Indian hockey is invisible on television. When it does appear, it is in such a shoddy incarnation that wandering minds switch off.
Television is the seed that breeds sponsorship, ignites passions and carries sport across boundaries. Formula One has shown that. A seemingly monotonous sport with invisible drivers thrives solely due to brilliant television. Hockey can do more, much more, if it chooses to.
It will then not have to ask for support, it will quote its price. If it offers opportunities, it will get investments, otherwise it must seek philanthropy, it must live off favours. Even the latest deal with Sahara - and I hope hockey players at last get what they deserve - is an "emotional" bond, the language suggests a rescue act somewhere. For sport to thrive, it cannot ask for charity.
It need not be that way with Indian hockey. It possesses magical skills, big hearts, tough men and these are wonderfully appealing qualities if people could see them. It has an appealing mascot that few sports have. But Indian hockey has the mentality of a manufacturer who makes good stuff and then hides it in brown corrugated boxes. Indian hockey needs to go to the people with a smart offering; it needs to say 'come buy me' rather than 'please support me'.
And it needs to do that now. Otherwise, county matches in England and outrageous foreign wrestling matches will be seen more on Indian television than hockey internationals played by India. Weddings and birthdays in Indian cricket will attract more attention than trophies in Indian hockey. The reason is there to see, if people want to see it.
Article courtesy The Week, July 27, 2003