Watching two sets of eleven men competing with each other while chasing a rotund ball with the sole aim of creating space and time to score a goal, enthralls the world as no other sport does. The audiences keep growing as the on-going World Cup viewership suggests and even in a country like India, whose obsession with cricket is well documented, soccer mania grips it once every four years.
This is the time when cricket takes a backseat and all that matters —for not just the well-bred and well-heeled, but also those on the margins — is to get glued to TV sets. We all soak in a spectacle, which combines fluid, feline movements with aggression and speed that weave magical patterns on the field to leave us spellbound.
If you still care to surf channels while The Game is on, you will find familiar figures on your screens contesting a sport involving bat and ball in which one team is trying to score runs and the other trying its best to prevent that from happening.
In contrast to football, this is a much more complex activity to understand, as the skills required for playing and the rules governing them are not easy to comprehend, unless the watcher has been formally trained to do so. Therefore, it is not difficult to understand why football is and will continue to grow in popularity and cricket will remain a game played by a miniscule number.
It is far easy to get mesmerised by Leo Messi’s dexterity and control, his nimble movements, understanding of spaces and his selfless play which makes him part with the ball at the right time so that his team benefits from his delectable skills. It is not difficult to admire the ball skills of a Robinho but also realise that he hangs on to the ball for too long, depriving his team of those precious seconds which turn an opportunity into a waste.
In contrast, you cannot enjoy cricket unless you figure out the numerous ways in which the ball deviates in the air, off the wicket, the various speeds at which it is bowled and the varied responses of the batsman in an effort to not only safeguard his wicket but also hit the ball in various directions.
Football is a game which may intimidate you at first with the sheer physicality involved, but once the match begins the same big, strong and “brutal” men, in reality don’t always kick the ball. It is a 90-minute courtship in which they cajole the ball, caress it, entreat it and plead with it in an effort to direct its movements towards the goal.That is possibly why a Maradona will remain a figure to idolise for the world and a Sachin Tendulkar for a few.