Bangalore: Last year, I finally freed my inner Oscar Wilde and yielded to temptation. I paid for it. For 80 dollars, I got as many hundreds of hours of action as I could handle. I could savour my Monday night fun on Tuesday afternoon if I chose to. And if I wanted to stop midway in the wee hours and carry on the next morning, that was fine too.
It's not what you're thinking. I refer to the modern sports fan's newest guilty pleasure - live streaming video. And in the case of the National Football League, you weren't watching some stop-start pixelated rubbish either. With a fast Internet connection and an HDMI cable to hook up to the TV, I was viewing games in near-HD quality. Instead of being a million miles away, I could almost kid myself into thinking that I was at Candlestick Park.
Rudimentary arithmetic tells me that I spent about 25 rupees for every hour that I watched over the course of the season. The average full game cost me less than a ticket at a Bangalore multiplex.
What relevance does that have to cricket, you may ask? Everything, really. Compared to the NFL and most other American sports, cricket's administrators are toddlers when it comes to marketing their sport. Go to the average NFL team page online, and it's a one-stop shop. Check your team's schedule, book tickets, banter with fellow fans and pick up that No. 7 Kaepernick shirt you don't really need.
The money the game makes from live streaming is a tiny fraction of what the overall broadcast rights are worth. But in the years ahead, that equation will alter quite drastically. As it is, for every old fogey like me who watches on a laptop, there must be a dozen others following games on their tablets and other mobile devices.
Next week, when Australia and India take the field at a venue where they played out a Tied Test a generation ago, fans in Australia will pick up their morning papers (or log in to their default news page), and find white space or a caricature where there might have been a shot of Michael Clarke practising his cover-drive in the nets.
I don't understand the nature of rights, and how they're constantly evolving, enough to contribute anything of value to the debate. Both sides, the BCCI and the photo agencies involved, are convinced that their cause is the right one. The same goes for the dispute with the ABC, who felt the radio-rights fee was too high.
What I do know is this. Wherever I look, those in positions of authority seem to be working against what's best for the game. West Indian administrators over the past few decades have been so inept that they've managed to reduce what was once cricket's premier institution to a side that is now considered a minnow abroad.
Cricket Australia stages its Big Bash during the middle of a Test series, depriving franchises of marquee players and also ensuring that the five-day side has nowhere to turn to for match-ready resources should someone break down. The England and Wales Cricket Board cosied up to a swindler, and have allegedly scuttled plans for IPL sides to play in Ireland or Scotland.
New Zealand Cricket just tried to alienate its one world-class batsman. Pakistan cricket recently had a board president who made Mr Bean look sane. Sri Lanka Cricket tries to give Machiavelli a good name. Cricket South Africa was skimming off bonuses for its fat cats. As for Zimbabwe, let's not even go there.
Everyone else sees the BCCI as the bullyboy who threatens to walk home with bat and ball the minute he's not at the heart of the action. Some of the criticism is deserved. A lot of it isn't. But in essence, they're no different from any other board in trying to make sure that things are skewed their way. Make no mistake; there are no altruists in cricket administration anywhere.
Why do we need an urgent resolution to the image impasse? Because pictures are our memory. Last week, someone came to meet me to share the results of some research that had been done on how the younger generation “consumes” its cricket. One word that cropped up constantly was ‘pictures'.
That's no surprise. Within minutes of the final whistle in Madrid on Wednesday night, you could go to the Guardian's website (and many others) and see the story of the Real-Manchester United game in snapshots. When the Super Bowl was over, the official NFL website had a feature that told the story of the season in 30-odd images.
Pictures can give you memories that are not even really yours. I never watched the Tied Test in Chennai, either at the ground or on television. In the 27 years since, I've read many thousands of words of prose, some of it brilliant, on the game. But when I think of it, the first things that come to mind are not the words. I recall instead the pictures from the newspapers – the look of anguish/anger on Maninder Singh's face, Ravi Shastri turning on his heel in disgust, Greg Matthews wheeling away in delight.
When we were kids, engagement with our heroes usually meant posters on the bedroom wall, if allowed. Had those images not been there, I'm not sure we'd have been as passionate about the game as we were. Though the medium has changed – you have desktop or mobile phone wallpapers now, rather than large posters – I'd like to think that the nature of the fan-player bond is the same.
Cricket also needs to figure out who its friends are. It needs men like Jim Maxwell to report on the sport, because you'll have to travel very far to find someone whose love for the game and dedication to it are quite as transparent. It needs dialogue rather than hubris, from whichever side is guilty of it.
Most of all, it needs to make sure we can create memories for another day. For that to happen, administrators and other stakeholders everywhere need to understand that sport is not a business. It cannot be run like a McDonald's. The bottom line cannot be the last word. In a fast-changing world, a sport taken seriously in only half a dozen countries cannot afford even a trace of complacency. It needs to cast the net wider and give more people access, rather than retreat into a protectionist cocoon.
Sport is the German blogging about his/her interest in a South Australian playing for Tasmania. It's about the bloke halfway across the world who writes in with memories of the first Test his father took him to when he was five years old – the tie in Chennai. It's about someone nearly 40 closing his eyes and seeing a blue balloon float across the Wembley pitch moments before the decisive goal in a Cup final. Without us and the kaleidoscope in our heads, there would be no rights to sell.