Cricket facing a death threat?
India is a country of passionate people; cricket is their passion. This game enjoys the status equivalent to a religion in this superstitious country and the cricketers are worshipped and revered alongside the regular deities and gods. Cricket has been ingrained into people’s daily lives since the time it was introduced by the British in as early as 1721. It is a game which is followed by the majority of the population on the television with utmost attention and played in the gullies with unabashed diligence.
The identity of cricket in India has gone beyond that of a mere sport. It has been used as a bridge between two warring nations (read India and Pakistan), a medium of generating funds for financing different social causes, and more recently, a money-spinning machine in the name of IPL and Champions League tournaments. The BCCI is probably one of the wealthiest organizations in the country and as we are well aware, money equals power. In addition to this, the sponsors, the media and to a certain extent the government, together have attached so much hype and importance to this game that it has invariably eaten into the potential popularity of other sports in India.
Hockey used to be our national game; Vishwanathan Anand used to be the arguably the undisputed world champion in Chess, Milkha Singh, PT Usha, Anju Bobby George were the athletes who had, for the first time, brought laurels to the country in the Olympics at the international stage, Pullela Gopichand won the all-England badminton championship in Britain– but all the Indian public acknowledged and remembered was the hattrick Harbhajan Singh took, or the triple century Virender Sehwag scored. Even sustained champions like Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupati could not manage to occupy a spot in the public’s eye for more than five seconds.
In order to save the other sports from dying a pathetic death, the government and other concerned agencies have recently begun pumping money into development of sports like football, kabaddi, tennis and badminton through organizing tournaments like ISL, Pro Kabaddi League and International Tennis League. Unexpectedly, the Pro Kabaddi League has proved to be an unequivocal success. Bollywood personalities, media giants, corporate leaders and the government were actively involved in the promotion of this tournament which thrust this sport in the public eye. The absence of any major cricketing tournament being held in parallel also helped in capturing and maintaining public attention to this tournament. Football is next up in line, with cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar themselves being a part of the ownership and promotion of football clubs. Extensive media promotion of this tournament is again going to ensure its unheralded success.
The division of public interest from only cricket to other sports is undoubtedly a positive turn of events. Bollywood is also helping in its own way by churning out biopics on Indian athletes like Milkha Singh and Mary Kom, giving them the long due respect they deserve. The question is whether this sudden shift of focus away from cricket jeopardize its popularity? Will the importance of cricket in India take a backseat while the other sports slowly gain popularity and prosper? Is this the beginning of the end of cricket fanaticism in India? Fortunately, or unfortunately, the answer to these questions is a resounding NO. In a scenario where popularity of cricketers is being used to enhance the popularity of other sports, the fading away of cricket fanaticism is not even on the horizon. The game is so deeply and completely entrenched into the very blood of the Indians that even these intensified attacking attempts of the other sports are not enough to bleed out cricket from the public system.