In the shadows of the limelight – Part 1 of 3

Cricket is innovating. Cricketers are becoming entertainers, rock stars. The party is on. Time for happiness, and hangovers…

Cricket is on the move! The game is becoming increasingly exciting, fast paced and innovative, many thanks to the Indian Premier League (IPL). During the past 5th IPL, I listened to several conversations where international players from different countries shared stories, laughs, beers and ideas on various aspects of the game.

In pre-game team talks, Australians in our team explained how to bowl to or bat against fellow Australian team mates playing in opposing IPL teams. South Africans would compare some of their countries strategies and tactics with Indians, New Zealanders, Poms and Bangladeshis. Players freely shared their secrets, sometimes teaching an IPL team mate how to add a switch hit or slower ball leg-break to their game. Compatriots today, they will be fierce competitors on the international stage tomorrow.

The game cannot but advance with this sharing of knowledge. This, and the huge number of T20 games that provide abundant opportunity to try out new innovations, gain experience and hone game plans… all under pressure, in front of 40,000 fans and millions of TV viewers.

Another stand-out for me has been to witness the bridges of friendship between international crickleters. Before the advent of IPL, these same players often would only converse through sledging and abusing each other on the field. Today it’s commonplace to walk into the dining room during a lunch interval of a test match, and see players from opposing teams catching up over a chicken tikka masala. At the end of last summer, the entire Australian team knocked back more than a few beers in the Proteas changeroom, and after the recent English series, the South African and English teams shared stories, a few laughs, beers and Verve Cliquot immediately after the awards ceremony.

Strategy, technology and/or new innovations no longer provide the competitive advantage in this environment of sharing. It’s the same way the internet leveled the information playing-field by making information widely and freely available.

The popularity of the IPL with owners, sponsors and the public has seen sister T20 leagues sprouting up in other countries. Cricket has woken up to the fact that the game is no longer in the cricket industry, but in the entertainment industry. Competing with playstation, Dvd’s, cinemas, concerts and festivals for bums on stadium seats/ barstools/ living room couches. Some test nations are even finding themselves competing with the lucrative T20 circuit for the loyalty of their top players.

As cricket rises to the entertaiment industry, cricketers transform into entertainers. Their celebrity status is increasing as they find themselves on billboards, splattered across the pages of glossy magazines and seated in fancy sports cars. In India one finds players who have not yet made their international team, with their faces plastered around shopping malls, airport terminals and on road-side billboards.

Models, actors, musicians and business highflyers have long known world of stardom. Cricketers across the world are now being invited to this party of glitz and glamour.

It’s a fun world, people love to follow stars, to read about them, talk about them, idolise them. Its entertaining. And it’s great for the star, it’s alluring, fun, colorful, challenging, cut-throat, financially rewarding, and lots more. Winners win and losers lose. It’s all but mundane.

Like with any good party, a potential hangover awaits unwary. Most may deny it, but the reality is that a number of cricketers past have succumbed to the hangover of scandal, emptiness, despair, divorce and even suicide. Without change, the hangover is likely to become more widespread.

Part two of this three-part series will unpack in more detail what lurks in the shadows of the limelight.

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