India vs England series, and ESPN’s crass TV ads

KRISHNAKUMAR P. writes from Bombay: Is the Indian cricket fan so cheap?

Do only cheap tricks appeal to the Indian cricket fan?

When ESPNStar won the broadcast rights for India’s home matches for the next six years, Indian fans rejoiced.

First, there was hope of better telecast quality. Second, there was the promise of some erudite commentary. And third, there was the hope that the viewer would now get to watch the first and last balls of each over.

Above all, being a pure sports broadcaster with years of experience covering cricket, ESPNStar was expected to deliver a rich viewing experience as opposed to the kitschy fare delivered by earlier broadcasters.

In short, here was a golden opportunity for ESPNStar to begin the Channel9-isation of Indian cricket broadcast, by injecting some much-needed professionalism at a time when cricket has been packaged and promoted more as entertainment than sport.

But the manner in which the broadcaster has been promoting the India-England series starting on November 15 comes as a sad reminder that not much has changed from the time we were told that ‘it was tough being a West Indian or a Sri Lankan in India.’

The running theme in the ESPN Star TV commercials—‘Angrezon kit toh bajaa di!’ using, in different spots, a pungi, a dafli, a band, and basuri—is as bad, if not worse, as Neo Sports’s racist ads targeting the West Indians or the Sri Lankans.

Understandably, ESPNStar has just come back into the subcontinent and would want to garner as much attention as possible. And admittedly, these ads are just to tell the viewer that the coverage of the series is available with Hindi commentary.

But rather than absolve the broadcaster, this only raises another disturbing question: Does ESPNStar think that the Hindi speaking/listening fan cannot understand the nuances of the game and the only way to connect with those fans is to appeal to their basest instincts?

And does it think that fans are only interested in seeing the Angrez getting bajao-ed and would not be interested in watching a hard fought, evenly matched series of cricket?

What is even more disappointing is that, unlike the Neo sports campaign, which was in the innocent pre-IPL days, this comes in the age of the shrinking dressing rooms and when player camaraderie that cuts across nations and clubs.

Could ESPNStar not have celebrated this newfound camaraderie to promote a big series in India, the home of the IPL?

It is not like STAR cricket doesn’t know how to promote a marquee series on its cricketing merits with a dash of good natured humour and wit. You just have to wait for another ad break between overs to see the ads promoting another cracker of a series being played a couple of time zones removed.

A South African fan asks his Aussie counterpart, ‘Hey Bru, what do you call a world-class Aussie cricketer?’ and goes on to answer: ‘A retired cricketer’. Another spot has the Aussie fan returning the complement, saying the best chance South African fans have of seeing a Dale Steyn wicket on this tour is when he walks in to bat.

Back then, Neo Sports found itself taken to court for its racist ads.

Considering that this time around it is our former colonial masters that are subjected to some old-fashioned bajao-ing, ESPNStar may well get away with it. But make no mistake — these ads are crass, tasteless and offensive.

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13 Responses to “India vs England series, and ESPN’s crass TV ads”

  1. Alok Prasanna Kumar (@alokpi) Says:

    This is the kind of Anglo-snootiness that usually invites the Macauley-putra jibe. Usually I think it’s a pathetic jibe, but given how blatantly snooty this piece is, I’ll say it would be well deserved here.

    I can understand how the WI and SL ads are racist and stupid. They’re offensive and there’s little credible basis to support it.

    But to heap contempt on an ad campaign, not because it’s actually distasteful but merely because one has (slightly) better ideas is either professional jealousy or plain sour-puss for sour-puss’ sake.

    What is so fundamentally wrong with the India England ads that this piece points out?

    There’s the lcasual and lazy comparison with the WI and SL ads without even understanding the racial sub-texts in those ads (and which are completely absent in this one). There seems to be some problem with the whole appeal to base instincts which is apparently exclusive solely to these ads and not to the entire framework of organized sports which depends on “my team’s better than your team”.

    But if you read the article again, closely, the author’s problem is that the word play is in, who’d have thought it, Hindi! The vernacular!! God forbid, what are the natives getting up to these days?!! It’s even promoting Hindi commentary, the existence of which must be grudgingly accepted as a necessary evil and not enthusiastically embraced for fear of contaminating one’s English-ness.

    What’s really the difference between calling the opposition players useless and untalented and saying that your team will “bajaa their band”? Why does the latter appeal to the “basest instincts” and what “higher instinct” is really being catered to in the former?

    Make no mistake. The SA-Aus ads exhibit exactly the same kind of faux-antagonism between teams that the India-England ads do, but is admiringly held up as somehow superior because… it’s in English? It appeals more readily to a certain kind of sensibility that has more in common to the sensibilities of the English speaker than the Hindi speaker. One can accept criticism is the critic is self-reflexively aware of this.

    However, when the critic simply posits one sensibility to be superior to the other without even acknowledging why, it all sounds so…



  2. M Says:

    ESPN Star may be global network but its managers in India are Indians. Most of them might even have an MBA from the hallowed IIMs.

  3. Suresh Panje Says:

    Well, I don’t understand the meaning of silly ads being projected to sponsor the telecasts. Yes, I reckon as a person from the media that it costs money to broadcast or telecast any event. But there is something known as ethical sense which needs to be practised.

    In this context, I wish to add that cricket is no more a game but a business. The worst possible mode could be seen in the IPL. One is yet to understand what is the concept of so-called CHEER GIRLS to gyrate their hips at every boundary or a sixer. The likes of Garry Sobers, Barry Richards, Viv Richards, Lawrence Row, Glen Turner or our own Bhudi Kunderan and Mohinder Amarnath never needed these half-clad gals to prompt lusty shots.

    Ever since ESPN has managed to monopolise the TV rights, the very beauty of the game has gone to dogs, courtesy the controlling cricket bodies bartering the telecast rights, least worried about the very spirit of the sport.

  4. chidu22 Says:

    >>these ads are crass, tasteless and offensive<<

    How does this compare with the english cricketers on field behaviour- jelly beans flung at batsmen at the crease, Finn’s behaviour during the last India tour (ODI series), the donkeygate comment by Nasser Hussain etc. These ads are thousand times civilized than examples of english players above.
    However I still agree with your comments about this ads.

  5. vrshenoy Says:

    The BCCI could have taken this issue with ESPN. However, the BCCI itself is a crude organisation that treats the paying cricket spectator boorishly.

    As I see it, cricket in India is the Roman equivalent of the circus; the BCCI an extension of the ruling senatorial class whose job is to ensure an orchestrated tamasha…

  6. Deepak Says:

    Compared to the previous Neo sports ads this is nothing, a bit kiddish though. But ESPN’s telecast has also become unprofessional. They too look for every opportunity to telecast ads. And we have to settle for 5 ball overs and when a batsman gets out, there is no replay ‘cuz we gotta have ads!!

    Indian cricket telecast is like sh** and it is the fat thugs at BCCI who are to blame. They have taken mota maal from the broadcasters and are least bothered what they do. No improvement, no professionalisation is ever possible.

  7. vaidya Says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with these ads. Most cricket series ads tend a bit towards ‘we will bajao’ you. As the first commenter here pointed out, it might come out as witty with English and crass with basic Hindi. I liked the Nautanki type setting for the Ind-NZ series. You should see the way Aussies do their pre-Ashes ads.

    But no matter what ads you do, it is the quality of the final telecast that matters and I do feel badly let down by ESPNstar. Replays have more or less disappeared. I think the issue is with the availability of their paid HD channels which are ad-free. So the replays are shown there while we get ads. Later when they come back from ads, we are at the mercy of whenever they show the replay, a few balls later or a few overs later. Just pray no one else gets out before that. Seems like a ploy to get people to subscribe to the pay-channel.

    Even worse is the quality of camera work. More and more deliveries are shown as the focus is on a random fielder, some blimp view from the top or some side view of the batsman. Let’s not even get started on the commentary!

  8. the colonel Says:

    like it says “I’m very happy”

  9. der aus drucker Says:

    I agree with the first commentor that there is nothing wrong or racist about this ad. Its just that its dumb. One really doesn’t need an agency to come up with such dumb lines.

  10. xyz Says:

    When I saw this ad I was in for a jounce, but fact of the matter is we all are so, Crass. And the ethics that our mba-ites have is so, Ersatz.
    If not all, I bet majority of us are still like neanderthals, throwing crackers at others in the name of Diwali, dumping garbage in our neighbors front-yard in the name of cleaning…
    Even in our schools teachers keep on bajaying Brishers basuri. And about HIndi speaking cricket fans, what can one say about them

  11. Faldo Says:

    In decades past, one used to read articles about how the Indian cricket fan was less boisterous than his counterparts in other cricket playing nations. It was said that even applause for boundaries was muted and was usually accompanied by a prayer that the batsman did not get out off the next ball. In contrast, the fans in Australia or the West Indies were goading their batsmen or bowlers to finish the opposition.
    It seems like that the pendulum has swung the other way and the Indian fan has become a lot more aggressive.

    That said, I do not believe the ad is racist, a word being dropped around loosely these days. It might seem silly though.

  12. babuds Says:

    I remembered Bernard Shaw’s profound comment on the idiocy of game of cricket. Though the number of players remain as same the format changed and viewership has swelled in the CW countries, more so in India. What profound ads did the OP expect to appeal to the abysmal IQ of viewers?

  13. dr ramesh Says:

    India were given a sound thrashing by England last year, they showed the world how bad is the quality of Indian test team is, that thrashing is still echoing in the ears of north Indian cricket fans, that frustration has lead to this cheap advertisement of a test series.
    south Indian cricket fans are generally more informed and have a balanced outlook towards cricket.

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