June 11 was quite a mixed day for cricket-related alliances. It was a day on which one potential alliance came unstuck while another, perhaps more important, got inked. Just as Graham Ford was reaching the conclusion that Kent was more attractive than India as far as coaching jobs are concerned, ESPN announced its acquisition of Cricinfo. In a sense, it is a logical move, a coming together of two unquestioned leaders – one in the television medium and the other in the online space. Enough will be said about the synergies, the challenges, the culture clashes and the like. So let me ponder over something else.
Cricinfo editor Sambit Bal, in an eloquent letter to the site’s readers, admits that one of the big reasons for the move is the fact that the site needs, “let's not be coy about it, fresh investments.” I would love to see how cricinfo uses this infusion of funds to create new products that are exciting for the reader while being remunerative for the site and its investor.
This is a very personal thing (and I know Sambit Bal’s letter does not refer to it as a focus area), but one of the areas that cricinfo can perhaps focus on is their print offering. The Cricinfo Magazine is the only magazine I read regularly, and it is a total delight to read. And this is not just because it covers the subject of cricket. It is to do with the language, the tone, the wit, and the statistical analysis – quite often I’ve even recommended the magazine to colleagues who are not particularly into cricket just for the language. Unfortunately, they don’t get around to reading it because it is just not easily and commonly available.
Of course a lot of the content that is available in the magazine finds its way into the web site, but the pleasure of reading the magazine is unbounded. It’s the test match to the web site’s limited-overs game, in a sense.
On a different note, I hope ESPN does not use the cricinfo format (and team) to get into tennisinfo, soccerinfo and such like. While those are definite business possibilities, I believe the cricinfo format is not a generic sports format – it has evolved from the game of cricket and its inherent characteristics. So while extending the concept may work, the formats will have to be different. You can’t play tennis with stumps, or have lbw’s in football, can you?