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Where there is cricket, there's a way

cricket Updated: Dec 30, 2010 00:06 IST
N. Ananthanarayanan
N. Ananthanarayanan
Hindustan Times
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For long, it was seen a dangerous invader by envious administrators of other sports, one that would trample on all Olympics sports. But a grateful nation is slowly but surely following the roadmap laid by India's passion: cricket.

The stunning 1983 World Cup victory spawned a new cricket culture across the country, transforming the niche game into a mass discipline. Cricket has well and truly evolved and is now transforming sporting ambitions of Indian youth and the mania around the game is entrenched way beyond urban pockets and is making deep inroads into the rural hinterland.

Youngsters who did not even realize careers can be made out of sports are now chasing their dreams with gusto, especially with the launch of the Indian Premier League (IPL) that brings glamour, quick money and sporting recognition in a few weeks.

The windfall that has come to the medal winners in various sports in the Commonwealth and Asian Games has only underlined the scope sports has, and the role cricket has played in fostering that aspiration.

Cricketers are feted as national icons and sponsors chase them, providing the template for new sporting faces such as Abhinav Bindra, Sushil Kumar, Saina Nehwal and Vijender Singh. This, in turn, is encouraging more and younger boys and girls to take the leap of faith.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) criticized a decade ago for not pumping back the millions it earned back into the game, now pays huge salaries to international and domestic players, has graded payments and revamped infrastructure. New stadiums continue to spring up, boosting the cricket mania as well as the business model. More stadiums away from traditional sports hubs foster a sports culture where none existed. That will change the geographical profile of India's new champions.

Professional steps such as graded payments have now been adopted by the boxing, shooting and wrestling federations. The football federation, which needed BCCI money to fund its team's Asian Cup preparations, is now pushing domestic clubs to turn professional.

Cricket itself is witnessing a transformation thanks to it becoming a mass game. While urban youth are switching to Formula One, golf, English Premier League and NBA - the saturated TV coverage has played a big role - it has infused a strong sporting culture and self-belief in rural youth to chase a successful career and life.

Infrastructure developed by cricket bosses is a solid model for others, says Shaji Prabhakaran, a former AIFF project director who runs a soccer consultancy. "The IPL showed sports can be organized successfully at the domestic level. It triggered a new mindset that in the eyes of the world India can be a sporting nation," he says.

Many organizations have moved to promote and cash in on the mass sporting awakening. One of them is the International Management Group, which has tied up with Reliance. The IMGR has signed Rs 700 crore deals with both the football and basketball federations.

Its executive director, Andrew Wildblood, sees the larger picture. "Sports has the potential to contribute to lifestyle and eventually nation-building. If you are successful in putting sports higher up in the political and corporate agenda, you have a chance to create commercial assets for sports that eventually leads to serve the higher purpose of community bonding and nation building."