The Indian love affair or rather the Indian media-led hype & promotion of the game of cricket often puzzles me.
Explaining it away as a legacy of the long years of British rule is simplistic. A lot of other aspects, typically associated with the British, have never quite been picked up by the masses or played up by the media. Why is cricket the exception, when the British did about their darnedest to ensure that it remains a ‘gentleman’s’ game. This, in other words, means that the hoi-polloi was to be kept away from it as far as possible.
Visualize the requirements in terms of the pitch, the equipments and accessories and even the attire. None of these are consciously designed to encourage the participation of the masses. Instead they have always been targeted at the well-heeled, upper-crust gent who is arguably snooty, not quite a born athlete or sportsman and has oodles of leisure time. Despite the transition from cream coloured flannels to coloured clothing, polite handclaps to go-go cheer girls in flashy clothing shaking dainty legs, toiling under the day-time sun and occasional light drizzle to day & night affairs, the fundamentals haven’t changed. This is a game whose classical version has been played over five days virtually on a 9 to 5 basis with leisurely lunch & tea breaks. The abbreviated version till recently still took about 8 hours counting the break between the two innings. In this age of instant and constant communication and ever looming timelines, taking time off to savour the game for all of eight hours is an indulgence only the really well-heeled or the true man of leisure can wallow in. Consider the immense amounts of money changing hands through a variety of sponsored and clandestine wagers and you will begin to see what I am getting at.
It helps of course, that a teeming nation of over 1.2 billion people, perpetually wallowing in mediocrity in virtually every other global sports, cricket, whether the longer or shorter version, offers some much needed salve for wounded egos. Conveniently swept aside are inescapable realities like the one that it is currently played only by a handful of nations and in a majority of those nations it is not by any stretch of imagination their most popular sports. That honour is accorded to football in the U.K., to Aussie rules football and rugby in Australia and to rugby & tennis in South Africa to mention a few out of the handful of nations who field cricket teams at the international level.
For those who feel that the recently introduced twenty-twenty format and the IPL in India will aid in spreading the game of cricket globally, do remember that it has all been tried before, in fact over thirty years before, by a ruthless and feisty Australian businessman, Kerry Packer. He flew in the face of the establishment and trod on a lot of toes because he saw an opportunity for money to be made. He did make some for a period of time before the dwindling gate collections and rapidly dropping in-field & TV ad pickings convinced him that it was no longer a worthwhile business proposition. One foresees that after two seasons or a maximum of three, after the celebrity owners have made some money and the Sharad Pawars have pocketed their not inconsiderable ‘cuts’, IPL is destined to go the way of the now virtually forgotten ‘ Kerry Packer circus’. After all, given the high price of tickets, the millions being paid to players & sponsors and the spiralling prices of telecast rights, IPL has, if anything, made the whole spectacle more elitist and a lot less affordable for the masses.
Where art thou, Baichung Bhutia & Prabodh Tirkey?