HERO CUP 1993: The making of a dream
Navroze D Dhondy, Founder & Managing Director of Creatigies Communications Pvt Ltd, sheds light on the journey and makings of the 1993 Hero Cup cricket tournament
It was possibly the 1st of November 1993. Winter was just about setting in. The sun had already set and after a late evening meeting, I drove back to the Hindustan Thompson Associates ( HTA – later JWT ) office in Jhandewala. As I walked into the office reception the guard on duty said, “Sir, yeh Sahib log aap se milne aaye hain” ( Sir, these two gentlemen have been waiting to meet you )
As I plonked my bag on the reception desk and stretched my hand out to a warm handshake the first gent introduced himself. “ Hi. I am Vineet Jain. From the Times of India. And this is my colleague G. Krishnan. We would like to discuss an interesting sports property with you”
I escorted the two gents to my cabin, ordered some tea for them, and then asked for more details on this unique sporting event that was going to be unfolded. GK in his imitable style said, “well let us not waste time Navroze. We really don’t know why we are here but a colleague mentioned your name and we hopped across to see if you could help get us a TITLE SPONSOR for the 6-Nation Jubilee Cup to be hosted by the Cricket Association of Bengal”.
On further probing, it became clear that all hell had broken loose and we were staring at a cricket tournament that was to start in exactly a week’s time.
After a few minutes of rather animated discussions in my cabin, I told Vineet and GK that there was no way that any brand would be able to afford the price tag they had been asking for. A soft drink giant had made them believe they would sponsor it but at the end of October decided that November happens to be in the winter offseason and suddenly backed off from the offer. This was one of the earliest cases of Rights ownership and the Times Group had picked it up from the CAB where Jagmohan Dalmia was the President and was always known as a Marketing genius!
So here we were three men in a ten by ten cabin literally staring at the writing on the wall.
It was a bit of a strange, funny and inexplicable mood that we were in as options of brands that would cough up the monies demanded kept getting struck off the list.
Eureka! I told Vineet and GK that I could try and create a 'ménage-e trois' of sorts and see if three companies would come together for the greater good. The first call went to Pankaj Munjal. Remember this was 1993. No mobiles. Good old landlines.
I explained this opportunity to Pankaj who was the main man behind Hero Puch. In a flash, he loved the idea and as I had predicted said, “I can’t do this alone. It needs the blessings of Hero Cycles and Hero Honda. But in principle, I am on!” That was a perfect start. Next call was to Ludhiana and I spoke with Mr O P Munjal ( Pankaj’s father ) who was the decision-maker at Hero Cycles. It was early evening and in Ludhiana, he was busy with some poets who had come for a mushaira. Despite that, he came to the phone, had a long chat with me, and when I told him that Pankaj was keen and excited, he too pitched in. His last words before he hung up were. “Jao, Brij Mohan Ji se mil lo. Hero Honda ka saath bahut zaroori hai” ( Do go and meet Brij Mohan Ji. Hero Honda’s partnership in making this happen is key!”
So the last call was to Brij Mohan Lal Munjal. The eldest of the family. He was enjoying a quiet evening at his residence in Greater Kailash and here I was with two gents nearly 15 kilometres away. Brij Mohan Ji heard me out on the call, and my update of the discussions I had had with Pankaj and O P Ji. I told him I was coming to see him right away. And along with me would be two gentlemen. His first reaction was “ Sure Aaa jao, lekin akele aana” ( Sure do come over but come alone”) I insisted that it would be the three of us coming over and as it was a winter evening we would enjoy the hospitality of the Munjal household with some hot chai and snacks! The rapport and relationship I shared with the Munjal family allowed me to take such liberties, and in a jiffy, we were all on the drive from Jhandewalan to Greater Kailash. Almost like from the boondocks to the Champs Elysees!
Brij Mohanji welcomed us, we were served tea and snacks and then we jumped headlong into the idea, the opportunity and the concept. THE HERO CUP.
Supported by Hero Honda, Hero Cycles and Hero Puch. Mr Brij Mohan Lalji was always a “gut- person” and here too he was reacting with childlike enthusiasm when he heard of the creation of the Hero Cup. With a thump of his heavy hand on the table, he said, “Navroze, bumper idea. Let us do the Hero Cup”
But in the next 30 seconds, the excitement and joy had given way to a bit of hardnosed financial discussions which did not go down too well with Mr Munjal, and he actually stomped out with a wave of his hand, almost dismissing us from his durbar! Well, Vineet looked at me. I looked at GK. GK looked at Vineet. All we could say is that we tried. And possibly failed.
There was no one in the living room, and we started to collect our papers to depart when suddenly I saw a hand waving at me. It was Brij Mohanji gesturing me to come across to the anteroom adjacent to the Living Room.
I walked across and he looked me squarely in the eye, and said, “Hero Cup is a brilliant idea. Karna hai. But the price needs to be negotiated. This is my offer….!”
Literally in the next one-minute history was written and Mr Munjal and Vineet Jain shook hands in agreement. Here I was writing a cricket tournament deal by hand, in Mr Munjal’s home office, on his personal letterhead and stationery, with a list of gives and gets sponsor benefits and other little details in 1993! When there was no history of brands sponsoring such events. How it happened don’t ask me now. Why it happened is something I have never tried to figure. But happen it did and sports sponsorship in India was on its way with the HERO CUP.
I immediately called Pankaj and Mr O P Munjal from Brij Mohan Ji’s residence. Conveyed to all the decision. Called my General Manager Mr Sunil Gupta ( who is a complete cricket aficionado himself ) called Mr J Narain who was heading Marketing at Hero Honda and called the creative team, Naveen Mathur , Vipin Sood, Ajoy Bhan, and the account management head Mukul Kansal to rush back to office at 830 pm to start the creation of the way the Hero Cup would look and feel.
The next 12 hours were a blur and we finalised the Hero Cup logo, the branding on the perimeter boards, branding on the stumps, tickets and all the bells and whistles that came along with the sponsorship. There was no internet. No laptop. No mobile phones. No WhatsApp. All designs were printed artworks and teams were dispatched to all corners of the country to ensure that everything was perfect when the first ball was bowled as India took on Sri Lanka at the Green Park, Kanpur, and made Sunday the 7th of November 1993 a truly special day. It helped that India won the inaugural game by 7 wickets and I had my first interesting discussion with an international cricket Umpire Steve Bucknor at the hotel in Kanpur.
Within three weeks much water flowed under the bridge. We had managed t get TWI to come and for the first time actually provide world-class TV coverage of a cricket event in India, something that didn’t go down too well with Doordarshan which refused to telecast the games. The first match, India vs Sri Lanka, did not get aired but some egos and tempers were quickly managed and from the very next game, the HERO CUP was beamed into Indian homes and all around the world.
The highlight came when all seemed lost during the Semi-Final game when the Eden Gardens Calcutta hosted the first-ever day-night game under lights. India had managed a modest 195 of which 90 came off the imperious bat of Skipper Mohammed Azharuddin. When South Africa needed just six runs from the last over Sachin Tendulkar chanced his arm, and truly became the Hero of the Hero Cup as he strangled the South Africans who ran themselves out of the game and India won by a whisker- 2 runs and entered the Finals.
Today is the 27th of November 2019. 26 years ago India played the West Indies at The Eden Gardens ( producing a repeat of the 1983 World Cup Finals ) and the HERO CUP stayed home with India winning by a huge margin of 122 runs.
Over the years one bumped into Vineet on flights and events, and of course many a meeting with GK ( who went on to head Aaj Tak for many years). Each time we would have that smile on our faces and each time we would reminiscence and replay each moment of that special evening when a little piece of Indian cricketing history had been written.
The HERO CUP. A replica of it sits proudly in the Hero Corporate office even today. Truly put together by some real Heroes. Mr Vineet Jain, Mr G Krishnan, Mr Brij Mohan Lal Munjal, Mr O P Munjal, Mr Pankaj Munjal, Mr J Narain, the team at HTA which worked tirelessly to create an iconic moment in Indian cricket history. I feel happy, proud and privileged to have played the role of the sutradhaar, who strung together such gems and was instrumental in the creation of the HERO CUP.
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