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World Cup 2014 : Beat it, cricket: India gives Test series a miss for football

Sandipan Sharma   July 13, 2014
First Published: 14:02 IST(13/7/2014) | Last Updated: 14:09 IST(13/7/2014)

It's early morning in an air-conditioned compartment of a train. Most of the passengers are sipping tea and poring over their newspapers.

Different brands of both English dailies and Hindi newspapers meet the same fate. Except for the sports sections, all other pages of the voluminous newspapers are kept aside for laying out breakfast or helping kids with their morning rituals.

What they read is almost identical: news of the buildup to the Argentina-Germany final. Will Angel di Maria be fit for the final? Will Lionel Messi score or be caged by the Germans? Everybody is searching answers to the same questions.

Somebody interrupts the morning calm and the train's rhythm with a polite query: "Bhaisahab, India ne kya score kiya?" Most ignore the question but a burly Jat asks innocently: "Bhai, India kab se futbal khelne laga?"

Maria Sharapova, please relax. Twitterati, please note. A train full of Indians doesn't even know that India are in the middle of an English summer and their bowlers just kicked away the best chance they had in years to beat England in England.

On some other day, during some other train journey, there would have been murderous outrage among passengers against Indian bowlers for letting England escape from the gallows. But on this day, in this train, all the words are reserved for Messi's Albiceleste (white and blue) not Dhoni's men in blue. For all they care, cricket doesn't exist.

Now, this isn't a train between Kolkata and Delhi, where the bhadralok may have got up early to pray for Messida. It is travelling between Jodhpur and Bilaspur, right through the heart of central India and is full of aam log.

Assuming that an AC-compartment of a long-distance train is a microcosm of the India that knows its cricket, this apathy appears ominous. It is not just a sign of football's supremacy over the red cherry. The football fever is a symptom that shows the Indian sports fan is still alive but his interest in cricket is dying, if not, already dead.

A few decades ago, the cricket lover and his transistor would be inseparable. Till a few summers ago, waking up early, staying up all night was once a privilege reserved only for a cricket series Down Under. Now, football commands that sort of devotion. The devotee is still there but the deity has changed.     

You may argue that the couch potato will return to cricket after the World Cup. But recent trends-like the English conditions-don't favour the Indian team.  

Go back to the recent IPL. The TRP ratings for the first week of this season were just 3.1, compared to 3.9 and 3.8 for the preceding years. A clear warning signal.       

Go back to the recent T-20 world cup, which India lost to Sri Lanka. A similar loss in a final a few years ago would have rankled for ages. It would have triggered days of mourning, breast-beating and stone-pelting at the homes of fallen stars. But we moved on after just laughing at some Yuvraj Singh jokes. Clearly, the passion and intensity from the romance have disappeared.

Go back a few midnights. Were you awake to watch Cheteshwar Pujara bat or Messi score?

There could be many reasons. Match-fixing scandals; the Indian team's predictable performance-loss on foreign pitches, victory on doctored home-turf; the absence of new heroes who can manipulate our emotions-Kohli may be good but not as Virat as Tendulkar- and the packed calendar have all contributed to the decline in interest. Or perhaps, we Indians no longer look at cricketers as the only warriors for our pride.

Cricket may die gradually like Indian hockey, which it replaced as a spectator sport. It may survive since it is the only existing option to fill up an Indian sports enthusiast's prime time void.

But cricket is unlikely to make us set our alarm for 3:00am. It is unlikely to make us stay awake till 1:30am. And it is unlikely to unite passengers on Indian trains in their newspaper reading habit.

Football has reminded us what cricket once was. It has also told us what cricket will be never again. 

(The views expressed are personal)


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