Muttiah Muralitharan: 800; Marlon Samuels 730; Hardik Pandya 228; Herschelle Gibbs 00; Mashrafe Mortaza 0; Virender Sehwag BLANK.
What’s in a jersey number in cricket?
Originally devised as a means for spectators to identify cricketers on the field, the jersey number has since taken on so much more.
Murali’s 800 was his tally of Test wickets, Samuels’s 730 the number of days he served banned from the game and Hardik’s 228 his highest score in any form of the game. Gibbs wore 00 to signify a fresh start, Mortaza went from 20 to 2 and then 2 to 0 to show the circle was complete and Sehwag, well his numerologist suggested a change from one number to another and when it didn’t work he went nude, discarding the number altogether.
In this day and age, though, it is surprising that this giant piece of real estate on a cricketer’s back hasn’t been used in a more innovative manner. Given that is is one of the parts of a player’s kit that is not for sale, yet, it provides a unique opportunity.
Consider this scenario. If each player had a different number each game, that would make it next to impossible for him to be identified in that manner, right? In a match that was broadcast, this would not be an issue as the commentators get a list of player jersey numbers at the start of each game. So they would still be able call the game without much disruption.
But what about the fan in the stands? Virat Kohli was 27 in one game and 43 today? Each of these fans has a smart phone. If they logged into the relevant application (apparently that’s what an app is), at the moment the Indian Premier League, and they clicked on the Royal Challengers Bangalore versus whichever team they were playing on the day and punched in 43, they would know which that player was.
In the meantime, having not only drawn someone into the app, with a view to the person following the game in that manner, the host has a chance to advertise the league, promote the team, and any associated sponsors while they are at it.
While this sounds like crass commercialisation, because it is just that in the context of a tournament such as the IPL, think of how it might be used in different contexts.
If you go to a domestic first class match, where the big screen is largely not in operation, there isn’t a radio broadcast to tune into and every player is wearing white and white, it can become impossible to distinguish one player from another on the field. You might be a regular at the M A Chidambaram Stadium and recognise every Tamil Nadu player by his gait, the shape of his backside when he is standing at slip facing away from you or his choice of wristbands, but you will struggle to place anyone in the opposition team. What if each had a number on the back of his jersey that gave everything away, for that game only?
You go to the BCCI app, then to the Ranji Trophy, then that match and voila! The number tells you all. At a time when audiences for domestic first class cricket are at an all-time low even as viewership for leagues and international cricket is booming, why not boost the one place where the lower levels of the game are being followed? Domestic cricket around the world has a serious audience on the Internet and while that once meant a computer in the home or workplace, it has now become the handheld device, whether phone, tablet or even the phablet.
If these are the people propping up the following of domestic cricket, either as dedicated consumers or casual observers, why not serve them better, while at the same time driving traffic to the game? Every cricket board today has a free app and each of them are looking at ways to increase following for non-international cricket. This serves both purposes without costing a dime to anyone.
Naturally there will be a need to update jersey numbers on match morning, but when you have live scores on the app, this is a trivial thing to do. If you don’t have live scores, then you probably aren’t interested in the traffic in the first place.
While this brings further traffic into domestic cricket, the possibilities in a tournament such as the IPL are even more mind boggling. Just as Google sells key words that are searched, and IPL team could sell No. 10 to the highest bidder, leaving their key player wearing it, and each time the search happened on the app, an advertisement could be delivered. At a time when media rights and franchise fees are at an all-time high, who would not welcome a new revenue stream?
Today, each player chooses his jersey number. Some are traditional and pick the one their favourite player wore, some are superstitious and choose a birthday or an anniversary. Some have to just settle for what’s left.
Why not democratise this in a manner that is win-win for everyone?