There's a One-Day International series between India and Sri Lanka round the corner - again. In Sri Lanka, as always. I'm beginning to think that whenever there is a gap between series for the Indian team, the Sri Lankan team is free and willing to host them. This happens with such alarming regularity - Mohandas Menon will be able to provide the exact details - that sometimes, when the Indian team is not scheduled to play, I find myself checking to see if they are, indeed, playing an ODI series in Sri Lanka. The answer is usually, though not always, no.
In any case, 2012 is exactly like 2008 in that when the Beijing Olympics was on, the Indians were touring Sri Lanka. That was probably a planned tour because India played a full series of three Tests and five ODIs. This time, having been arranged out of turn, it's just five ODIs and a Twenty20 International. And it will all be climaxing when the London Olympics are on.
I remember the 2008 series very clearly, because it was the only time in the seven years I spent as a broadcast journalist that - for a while at least - cricket stopped being the top news on TV channels. There are three Cs that make news TV work: crime, cinema and cricket. Calamity is the unspoken fourth C and, at the cost of sounding facetious, the one that TV waits for. Crime and cinema bring in viewers when they are 'appealing' enough. But cricket - well, that's the one you can count on. It's all scheduled. You know the period in which you need to line up two-three former cricketers of repute. The sponsors are ready and waiting. It's all quite simple.
So it was when the Beijing Olympics started. I was deputed to cover the Games for the TV station I used to work for at the time with the words, "Go have fun in Beijing. India won't win anything anyway, and we will be focusing on the cricket. Don't worry too much about filing reports. We will tell you if we need anything. Meanwhile, eat snakes."
Okay, that may not have been the channel head's exact words, but it's pretty much what he meant. It didn't pan out that way, of course. I had fun in Beijing. I ate snakes. But India won three medals, more than ever at a single edition of the Olympics, and I filed many, many reports. As for the focus on cricket - we know how that went, don't we?
There was a period after the 2007 World Cup when TV stations seemed to have had their fill of cricket. Or, the audience seemed to have had its fill and TV stations reflected that. It took the win in the inaugural ICC World T20 later that year to change the mood.
The only other cricket lull on TV was during the 2008 Olympics. First Abhinav Bindra with his historic gold, then Vijender Singh and finally Sushil Kumar ensured that the journalists-on-vacation-at-the-Olympics got more than they had anticipated. The reporter who had gone to Sri Lanka, incidentally, didn't have much to do for a while. I'm sure he wasn't complaining. Reporters from our office in Delhi were rushed to Chandigarh (Bindra's home), Bhiwani (Vijender's village) and Najafgarh (Sushil's home). To go to Sushil's house, I was told, reporters first congregated at Virender Sehwag's old house - the only address in Najafgarh people were familiar with - and then took directions to the Olympic bronze medal-winning wrestler's modest residence.
Anyway, cricket took a backseat. Would that have been the case if it were a series against Australia? Or Pakistan? Or South Africa? Or England? Maybe. Maybe not. Indians don't win Olympic medals every day, after all. But then again, did the 'Sri Lanka' factor make it easier to shift focus?
Will that happen this time too? India's had a poor run in international cricket of late. Cricket fans are worried and waiting for a good win. Success in Sri Lanka should alleviate fears somewhat. But what if the Indian contingent in London goes on a medal rush, as many of us think it will? Between the shooters and boxers and archers and wrestlers and tennis players (do we finally know who is playing with whom?), six to seven, or even nine to ten medals are a realistic possibility.
If that happens, what would you want to watch on the news this July?