If you desperately turned on to 100.7 FM Gold at some point during the day on your radio or car audio system to find out how Virat Kohli was dismissed or whether the Indian spinners were running riot, and instead heard Kishore Kumar crooning Yeh Shaam Mastani, blame the impasse between the Board of Control for Cricket in India and All India Radio (AIR).
Cricket’s been off the air on radio-sets around the country, in fact, for close to 10 months now with India’s tours to Australia and Sri Lanka also having failed to reach the radio space. And now, with India presently hosting their biggest home series in almost a decade — with many comparing this to the 2001 clash of the titans pitting Australia — the oldest source of cricket information in the country has gone silent. All because the BCCI and AIR refuse to come on the same wavelength.
The story thus far goes like this. Two years ago, the BCCI approached AIR with a proposal, which the national public radio broadcaster didn’t agree to. And the Indian board claim that despite their various attempts at convincing Akashvani, they are yet to break the deadlock.
“The BCCI proposed that we will take care of all their production costs, including the hiring of the best radio commentators available in the country — which itself would be around Rs 7-8 lakh. All we require from them is their airwaves. And as a result they will have to share 50 per cent of the profits of their revenue with us. But they have kept dilly-dallying ever since,” said a senior BCCI official.
He also revealed that the BCCI had re-presented their proposal for a long-term agreement to the AIR eight months ago but to no avail. The board has ever since stopped communicating with the national broadcaster, the end result being cricket’s disappearance from radio.
“We even cited the 2009 Broadcasting Act example of the deal between Doordarshan and Star Sports, which allows the national public TV broadcaster to take live feed and share a 25-75 profit-sharing agreement with them. But they were simply not ready to budge. We had no choice but to stop going to them,” he explained.
The AIR, though, remain adamant that the fault lies with the BCCI, and their refusal to create a feasible formula is robbing Indians of radio commentary.
“It’s simple market science. You have a buyer and a seller. But if the seller isn’t prepared to sell his product, then what can anyone else do. Earlier the norm was that we signed rights contracts from series to series. But they have simply stopped coming to us over the last many months, maybe in quest of a long-term contract, which isn’t forthcoming at the moment,” said a senior AIR official.
“I belong to an era where we used to mute the television-set, so that we are watching it on TV and listening to radio commentary. And now it’s no longer available,” he added.
At the end of the day, it’s the cricket fans, that much-harangued tribe, who are the losers once more. You don’t have to be from that era or a cricket tragic to acknowledge the gaping hole that the absence of radio commentary generates. Even today, whether you are behind the wheel or even traveling in a train, the radio is your lifeline when there’s a cricket match on.
You could argue that in an era of smart phones, which offer various apps displaying score-cards and a plethora of cricket websites offering you ball-by-ball commentary, radio is passé. But there’s something about being told that a bowler’s performance has been napi-tuli all day long that describes his miserliness in a way that an economy rate never can. Just like you immediately relate with listening to how a batsman dealt with a ball that tappa padne ke badh andar ki taraf aayi, even as you are manoeuvring your car through Mumbai’s unrelenting traffic.
And it looks like those who want to know whether Shikhar Dhawan will find his touch in the second innings or whether Dale Steyn will further embarrass the Indian batting line-up will have to make do with Kishore Kumar till the time they get anywhere close to a TV or laptop screen.
For, cricket on radio seems like a thing of the past, for now anyway.