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Cricket in India: The Madness and the Glory

It was not meant to be like this. A nation going mad about a game with rules to suit the etiquettes and the tame physical demands of the elite of another country.

india Updated: Mar 15, 2003 02:21 IST

It was not meant to be like this. A nation going mad about a game with rules to suit the etiquettes and the tame physical demands of the elite of another country.

Yet when India plays the semi-final and most probably the final of World Cup 2003 it will in many ways be the apogee of a nation’s troubled and often flawed search for global recognition, supremacy andof course glory.

The boys in blue have a bit of historical backing –the victory n 1983. It took 20 years for the nation to even try to dream of that victory once again. It is the dream of a nation that has nothing much to dream about, for it is a nation that has been bogged down in the currents of adversity that have lashed its shores for a long time.

Cricket gives India a faith in itself, that nothing else has given it so far. It unites the country in self-belief for some strange reasons. It is a game that suits well the frail physique of the South Asian peoples. It is a game whose intricacies and statistics suits well the mindset of a people who have forgotten to dream but know well how to bear.

Yet it was not meant to be like this. Thinkers, politicians and writers have looked on in awe and despair as the country took to cricket and warned of the dangers of a colonized trying to replicate the game of the colonisier.

Congressman B.V.Keskar who was general secretary of the AICC in 1946 forecast damnation for the game in the country. He failed to see any future in it for cricket was a game “purely English in culture and spirit.” He drew a parallel between the game and slavery and suggested it is part of the Indian mindset to copy anything that belonged to the English civilization.

As Ram Guha points out in his modern history of Indian cricket,( “A corner of a foreign field’) Keskar later as minister of Information and Broadcasting had to reluctantly sanction cricket commentary on the All India Radio. What is to be noted is that cricket grew in India despite various odds.

The first phase of its growth from Independence up to the 70s was of course propelled by the Radio commentary and since then by the rapid growth in television. The second phase was of course 1983 when India won the World Cup against all odds. The growth of cricketing popularity in India since then has been phenomenal. It has become national passion, national past time and national sport.

For a nation dragged down by poverty (about 200 million cannot get enough to eat) cricket is an escape to a paradise where there is victory, there is sweet revenge, there are real superstars who can slay the demons.

Above all cricket has given rise to a spiralling parallel (if I may use that word in a positive sense) economy driven by this mania. Sony Max television channel which has the rights for two World Cups, will make about Rs 2500 million from ad revenues. At least five top players in the Indian team will make about Rs 100 million each from just this World Cup,(from commercial deals as wells as gifts and prize money)even if they lose in the finals. Some of them will take messages about TB and polio treatment to thousands of illiterate people who will watch some of the matches on villages television or in urban squalor, or in the houses they work in as maids and cleaners.

Many products would have captured the attention of rural and semi-urban people who hadn’t heard of it. Many thousands of children will insist on having the new blue Pepsi launched during the Cup. More than anything else, thousands who haven’t eaten their first full meal of the day will go back to their hutments with something to smile about. Thousands of illiterates who cannot identify any cabinet minister can identify all or some of the cricket players.

There is irony and cruelty and glory in all this.

But it’s a mania. Cricket has come home to India. There wont be any more doubters who predict doom for the country if it takes to the game.

First Published: Mar 15, 2003 02:19 IST