A few years back this question by Decathlon (see the fine print at the end) would have met with derision, but times change very fast. Today, the sports section of newspapers cover less of cricket than other popular sports. You just need to look at the coverage of various European football leagues vis-à-vis the Ranji trophy & you will understand why these European clubs are on a marketing hyperdrive in India. But once the IPL season starts, it’s a return to the good old times for cricket (the cheerleaders play as important a part in IPL as in this post)!
So rather than a simple, straight-forward answer to this question (after all, Decathlon is offering splendid prizes for this one!!), let us list out why’s & why not’s of India still being a cricket centric country.
It is the consumers that certify success of a product & the uncontested reign of cricket in the hearts & minds of the Indian sports fan has ended. At an age when the former porn star, Sunny Leone, has an established career in mainstream cinema, cricket only has very few glamorous WAGs to fall back on. This void is filled with other champs endowed with ample oomph factor – the Saina’s & the Sania’s of the racquet world. Moreover, the men in blue score only in the brash quotient, but are outplayed in the brawns department by the likes of Vijender Singh & Akhil Kumar. And these champs are outshining the cricketers. On the personal front too. If Shikhar Dhawan & Irfan Pathan married Australia-based girls, Sania Mirza got herself a foreigner as hubby!
Professionally too, other sportspersons too have made a mark at international level. While we have a Leander Paes in Tennis who has outlasted Sachin Tendulkar in the longevity stakes, we also have a young Saina Nehwal in Badminton who has successfully breached the great wall of China. If India has had a long tradition in cue sports, the early exploits of shooters have made us a strong competitor with an assembly line of upcoming stars. And each success story in these sports is magnified by the media, in turn spawning recognition, awards, adulation, fan following & endorsement deals. Sounds so similar to cricket, doesn’t it?
In cricket, the best batsmen play higher up the order, while the not so good ones are pushed to, what’s called, the lower order. We have examples of many lower order batsman moving up the order as their skills improved (Ravi Shastri, for one). But in this cricket crazy nation, we also have the likes of Patels (in Gujarat), Gujjars (in Rajasthan), etc., who are going against this basic tenet of cricket. Else, why should these worthies be fighting to be included in the lower order of the social hierarchy (at least, for sarkari benefits). Can you ever imagine Virat Kohli asking to come in & bat at No. 8?
Cricket is called a gentleman’s game. Yet how many gentlemen do you come across in everyday life? Go to an end of season sale in a mall, or travel during rush hour traffic or even witness a ganesh visarjan procession. There is nothing gentle, manly or gentlemanly! And we are not even talking about the rapes, riots or discrimination on various grounds. The reality of India differs a lot from the idea of Cricket.
Traditionally, cricket was a relaxed game played in white flannels by men (the early Lankan stars sported a well-rounded middle too!). Then came the limited overs variety, coloured clothing, year-round games & players who are acrobats. Indian politics too has witnessed a similar transition as cricket. It’s not just the dapper Modi Kurtas replacing the boring white khadi. If the parliament manages to last 5 years, we have major state elections every 8 to 10 months, so much so that the PM is always shunting between election rallies & foreign trips. And the manner in which today’s netas switch sides, ideologies & stance, they put to shame the young cricket stars. (Pls disregard the fact that netas never turn around & ask Howzzat.)
In cricket, an umpire’s decision has always been final. Players take it, even when adverse, in their stride, throw their chin up & continue with the game. With changing times, the players have been given the limited liberty of approaching the 3rd umpire. In India too, the parents have traditionally played the role of an umpire. But as newer generations get more rebellious, 3rd umpires are in vogue – we call them the Khap Panchayats. When parents fail, it is these 3rd umpires that come in & make the truant youngsters fall in line. And just like cricket, there is no appeal beyond the Khap Panchayats. Yes, life often imitates cricket in India.
And cricket imitates life. At least when it comes to corruption, nepotism, conflict of interest, and what not. The IPL has been accused of all these and more. And hasn’t the misdeeds of sons-in-law led to the downfall of the powerful in cricket & political worlds? Pre-IPL days too, match fixing in cricket always had an Indian connection. Let us also not forget the monkeygate, which is a staple of our casteist/racist/communal cauldron.
Cricket terms are used as metaphors in life & vice versa. Take rape, for example. Aversion to rape unites almost all Indians (except the rapists & Mulayam Singh Yadav). Wasn’t it a rape in the capital that led to candle lit marches across the country by people who skipped their dose of Ektaa Kapoor soaps? Rape is also what most Indians term (at least on social media) a typical batting display by Chris Gayle. And it (Gayle’s batting, stupid, not a rape) also gets all viewers glued to the television screens. Cricket still remains a unifying force.
As you can see, it is difficult to decide whether India still remains a cricket-centric country. Well, at least I can’t. But I do know that, looking at the clout wielded by BCCI & the popularity of IPL, cricket has certainly become an India-centric game. And this is something we can definitely be proud of!
This post was originally submitted to Decathlon for its contest
Picture Source: Cheerleaders (http://ipl8livescore2015.blogspot.in/2014/04/ipl-7-cheerleaders-2014ipl-cheer.html), Collage made from various online sources