The above is indeed a question that most Indians will be asking during the immensely frustrating WTC finals against New Zealand. Test Cricket is a quintessential legacy brand that is currently being threatened by simpler formats, quite like fine dining versus QSR. A very good reason why the ageless impediment of weather cannot be allowed to interfere with the timeless magic of five-day engagement.
To understand the longevity of Test Cricket, one must seek some fine parallels that enunciate the connection. Fine dining restaurants that thrive on slow food derive meaning from their obstinate adherence to tradition, albeit with new-age simplicities such as home delivery. The elegant first-class railway carriage, which is a successor of the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, must have state-of-art Wi-Fi to ensure sustainable attendance. Hand-crafted watches of Swiss origin cannot desist from investing in digitally accessible service centres in order to garner patronage. While traditional crafts the world over have suitably invested in e-commerce access points that ensure relevance to emerging audiences.
As suitable case studies, the behaviour of premium hotel chains during this pandemic will attract most juries, for both sincerity and desperation. The highly vaunted fine dining chefs of ITC are today submitting reluctantly to takeaway, however T20 it may sound to a Test Match fiend. Discounting offers by exceptional properties threaten to attract a much-reduced target profile but if it pays for the provident fund submissions, all is indeed well. Persuasive boutiques peddling overpriced handbags are now sacrificing their Godzilla margins in the quest to survive. Premium air travel, once it resumes, will surely become more amenable and we know by now that the SUV brigade has largely softened their expectations. I spoke to a renowned tailor recently, revered for his well-crafted suits, and discovered that the compromises to ensure billings were abundant and significant.
Now venturing back to Test Cricket, the legacy brand in this context, rain is clearly not an acceptable intermediary. For it primarily suggests a lack of adherence to customer centricity as in these hyper-charged times, unaccountable interruptions threaten patronage. Even the wildest aficionado, unless terminally superannuated or obsessed, will quickly move to the other network to watch European Cup Football, guaranteed to perform unconnected to weather. It also implies certain laziness in the construction as quite evidently, the governing authorities do not wish to consider a sustainable alternative. Tradition is indeed a fine thing to hold on to but it must, I repeat must, be applicable as a standard operating procedure, else it is dangerous.
So what must the legacy brand of Test Cricket do differently to stand out as different? Firstly, invest in all-weather formats that can be physical or functional. Imagine a test series in England where the venues stay flexible till the latest possible weather survey, Southampton quickly becoming Northampton on Day minus Two. Every venue is a short bus ride away, a plane ride in other geographies, and in any case the primary revenues from the sport are no longer linked to spectator attendance. Else, a la Wimbledon, the development of optional rooftops where the stadium becomes de facto indoors, as and when necessary. A titillating challenge of science is the induced elimination of rain clouds through technology that is currently being tested. In either scenario, the legacy brand must be protected from the vagaries of avoidable nuisances.
There are, in fact, many wonderful learnings from legacy brands across domains, which must be invaluable to Test Cricket. They mostly stem from a learned distinction between true value and adjunct value and therefore, the priorities for preservation. Gourmet restaurants are willing to sacrifice in-venue pampering for at-home conveniences, just as e-commerce conduits gingerly substitute the boutique customer engagement for luxury accessories. As hotels increasingly focus on the ‘Drive’ and not ‘Fly’ segments, their receptivity to all day check-ins and presence of children’s nannies increases manifold, compromising on the much-vaunted profile rigidity. Premium whiskies and wines are happy to offer shameless discounts for precious patronage, as are top-end apparel brands, thus shedding solemn shades of ego. Across experiences, fellows have adjusted to ensure profitable continuation but Test Cricket is an inglorious exception.
Whatever be the outcome at Southampton, Test Cricket will turn out to be the loser, not winner. The customer of today frowns at uncertainty in process and that is a sufficient deterrent for the consumption of unquestionable legacy. May the ICC wake up soon, else a crown jewel may well become a museum piece.
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