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All padded up

Cricket and economics have much more in common than one would think, writes Madan Sabnavis.

india Updated: Oct 10, 2011 12:10 IST

Cricket and economics may seem to have little in common. But India’s World Cup victory is actually reflective of the myriad changes that are taking place in the economics of the country.

The ascendancy of Asia in the economic sphere has been reinforced with India prevailing over all the main cricketing powers. In cricketing terms, India over Australia is the equivalent of India challenging the United States in economic growth. The fact that we had staged the World Cup in the subcontinent was also a pointer to this growing presence on the centrestage. The subcontinent’s ascendancy is not very different from the G20 becoming more powerful today than the G8. The Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) now dominates the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the reason is simple: the money is here. The logic is the same when applied to the G20 and global economic growth.

The finals in Mumbai on Saturday had around a seventh of the tickets available for the general public with the rest reserved for VIPs. This, in a way, is also reflective of the story of economic reforms where the aam janta receive only a fraction of the goodies from the high growth story of India. The 85:15 ratio that holds in the distribution of economic prosperity was mirrored in the Wankhede Stadium last weekend.

The Indian reaction to the victory is as schizophrenic as our response to the ‘India Shining’ story that reverberates in conference halls. Just as reforms have been concentrated on industry, finance and foreign trade and investment to the neglect of the farm sector, the government’s response to this sporting victory draws an analogy. The government and other related agencies have been extremely generous in rewarding our already wealthy cricketers. Economic policies are generally geared to make the rich better off in the hope that the fabled ‘trickle-down’ theory works in course of time. This is also noticeable in the differential treatment of cricket victories and those in other sports such as tennis, wrestling or badminton. A caste system in sports is very much in place.

The quality of commentary during the World Cup matches left a lot to be desired. This again is similar to the level of economic and business discourse in which experts keep trying to explain various economic developments and data, only to contradict themselves when the revised numbers come in. So we have our Gavaskars and Sidhus on the economic front too.

The Indian team has been very charitable in acknowledging the contribution of their South African coach Gary Kirsten for this victory. We have had foreign coaches for quite a while now, John Wright and Greg Chappell having preceded Kirsten. Look at our economic policies and we get a similar feeling — since 1991-92, we have had the Washington Consensus driving our policies that have cantered towards liberalisation and more liberalisation.

Finally, a drive along Mumbai’s roads on Saturday night was revealing. There were various sets of slum and hutment dwellers dancing away. Would they be getting anything from the World Cup win? Would their standard of living improve? Theirs was the true Indian reaction where we learn to live in our suffering and revel in the great strides made by India Inc. No wonder India lives on, happily ever after.

( Madan Sabnavis is chief economist, Credit Analysis & Research (CARE) Ratings Ltd. )

*The views expressed by the author are personal.