There is a famous quote by Edmund Charles Blunden, “Cricket to us was more than play, it was worship under the summer sun.” And there is no other country that has stuck by the game and religiously revered it than India. A country of 1.3 billion and just a cricket game to unite them all! To an outlander, the devotion might seem incomprehensible but to the Indian mass, cricket is a congenial creed. And over time, various people have tried to figure out the obscure love for this game and come up with myriad explanations. Today I am going to be just another brick in the wall.
It sounds improbable that a sport started by our colonial rulers just to spend their time leisurely found such a huge fan-following in India. In fact, India started playing cricket even before they gained independence. At first it was an elite sport with some Parsis and Hindus playing it to receive some prominence and stature that the Britishers attached to the game. Not only was the game one for the noble, but even the common masses seemed to enjoy playing their own bat. As such the game is challenging to play, requiring a lot of space, good pitch conditions and expensive equipments that are conditions rarely fulfilled for the average man. So why is the game still so popular? Mainly due to pride, I would say. Pride in winning, pride in the fact that our country was not only good at something but better than the rest. And pride is hard to deny. India is a mélange of religions and castes and it is this game that brings all of them together to instill a sense of patriotism towards the country. The turning point for the game was undoubtedly the 1983 World Cup win. A team of 11 players that managed to topple the big names and come out victorious-a true underdog story, it was the stuff dreams were made of. But contrary to popular belief, the team performance has not affected the fanfare to a larger extent. India has only recently become consistently competitive in cricket. Our country had already produced prodigious talents in other sports such as Dhyan Chand but somehow the gentleman’s game struck a chord with the Indian soul. Maybe the simplicity and the related cost factor added to the prominence, for how hard was it to pick up a wooden bat, a ball and few stumps, gather your friends and start playing on a ground or in a gully for that matter. It is not surprising then when people say that you will find masters of the trade playing a square cut or bowling a doosra in some of these gullies. Also owing to the crowded nature, cricket is a game that involves all the players with 3 to 4 games being played simultaneously in one open ground. The introduction of television was another boost for the game. 30 million households with a television set, all glued to the screen and waiting for the next sixer. Our population that was an environmental problem as such became an advantage now.
It was around the same time that Sachin Tendulkar came and conquered the game. When Sachin played, life happened. This article would be incomplete without at least dedicating a few lines to this genius man. With his advent to the Indian side, we started setting new records, winning games consistently and defeating some of the greatest teams with panache. People worshipped this man and many believed in him more than they did in a superpower. This type of fanatical devotion does not come easy. The introduction of shorter formats also proved to be important. People could easily keep track of scores now and it was far more enjoyable to watch a team win or lose in a day. Test matches reduced to 50 over games and now 20 over matches rule the roster. With the introduction of corporate companies, money came pouring in. Suddenly, everyone wanted a bite from the forbidden fruit. Players started to get fatter paychecks, people got more than they invested and the bubble blew up. BCCI played an important role here. Indians being the shrewd businessmen that they are became the head and ran an international body to completely change the course of the sport.
I believe that the game continues to enjoy the adulation and garner humongous proportion of spectators because it is a game that has evolved. It has kept up with the changing demands of the viewer and done that really well. But then if one looks at the amount of hard work people put in the sport, it as much feels like they deserve the glory. And yes, cricket does sidestep our national game, Hockey, but then for now who cares. It is the season of the World Cup and India has already defeated two eminent teams. The cricket fever is going to burn for a long time now. And as a part of the cricket fandom, I couldn’t be happier!
Idler, bibliophile, side-spectator, day dreamer and an engineering student trying to find something she is good at. An average girl with high hopes and even bigger ambitions.