India is one country where Cricket is beyond a sport. It is an obsession. People here watch Cricket more than they play. They talk Cricket more than they watch Cricket. From a rickshaw puller to a billionaire, girls or boys, children or elderly, Indians not only love but live Cricket. That what they cannot find in life, they search for it in Cricket.
Cricket has been an essential sport that millions of Indian kids did besides going to school while growing up. Everyone enjoyed playing the game, everyone enjoys watching the game. Everyone has their own favorite cricketing moments; own favorite cricket star, and we all have some or other memories of our childhood that are linked with Cricket.
Many wonders, how a British game has become so closely identified with India!
Cricket wasn’t that popular in India. In the early twentieth century, a few Indian cricketers, especially the relatives of royal families had begun to make a mark in the cricket world. Till about the early seventies, the sport was followed mostly by the urban crowd. It had just one format – Test Cricket – which satiated the needs of the purists, but it largely failed to appeal to the masses.
Cricket in India was slowly rising when the world witnessed a hero emerge – Sunil Gavaskar – made his debut in 1971 against the fearsome fast bowlers without a helmet and in the first match hit the winning run to beat West Indies, it’s first ever Test match victory against the Cricketing supergiant of the era. This was the day we saw the first spark in a fire.
However, the emergence of Cricket as a sport commanding the kind of fanatic following it has today traces to the advent of fast-paced, and later colorful One-Day Cricket, a sort of sporting format, Indians had been craving for.
Lifting the ’83 World Cup‘ by Kapil’s Devils changed the mindset of both players and followers that we were better than the ones who ruled us. Through Cricket, Indians found a way to beat the British in their own game. In this beautiful game that they gave us, we were only the second nation to be the World Champions.
This soon was followed by the growth of the Television industry in India and increased the following of Cricket multi-fold. Athletes from other sports were being neglected by the media. The back page of newspapers in India mostly published news about Cricket, allotting them all the space. Magazines like ‘Cricket-Samrat’ would vanish from the stands on day one.
And then Tendulkar happened! He single-handedly on his shoulders, rode a billion dreams. There was a famous saying… “If Sachin plays well, India sleeps well.” Soon he was put on the pedestal of the God and Cricket became a religion of a billion people. Sponsors money poured in, and both hype and expectations reached a fever pitch.
In the legend of the ‘Fab Five’ – (Sachin, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly, and Sehwag), Indians had more heroes than ever to look up to. This was the period when India had started performing extraordinarily well at international level. And now Kohli and Bumbrah are rated as the world’s best batsman and best bowlers, making Indians ever more proud.
During this period, the profile of the Indian cricket fans also changed – as urban elites began to follow more international sports, the masses took to Cricket in a big way. Every child somewhere in their life dreamt of becoming a cricketer like their heroes.
As sports fanaticism has become an addiction today world over, the Indian cricket fans turned a little more fanatic.
Cricket was always a fun game, and so are its devout followers. With only three matches left in this World Cup, expect a billion enjoy every thrilling minute praying, calculating run rates, follow their own unique pre-match superstitious rituals… wearing the same jersey, or in most cases watching the match on TV sitting on their fixed spot, in specific positions.
There are also some who criticize the disproportionate attention given to Cricket in our country. But it is impossible to be immune to the Cricket’s contagious fever. If you catch these critics glued to the TV screen, they tell you – “I always and only watch World Cups – the only sport where we have a chance of winning.” A valid reason, no?
Cricket gives Indians real joy as well as actual pain. It matters, deeply, and yet it doesn’t. There are some, who cancel all plans during a game day, and to some, the mood alters with the passage of every over who are insanely and divinely inspired with the game. They are emotional, logical, passionate, rational as well as, and irrational, knowing that the outcome of the match will have zero impact on the trajectory of their lives.
If an Indian wicket falls, in thousands of houses, a thousand must have moved from their favorite spot, or a thousand might have entered the room bringing the bad luck. No, they are not supposed to do that at such a vital juncture of a match. A friend yells at another, as he just entered the room, a ball before Rohit got out – “तुमने रोहित को आउट करवा दिया, यार” (You made Rohit out.)” Devastating, isn’t it?!
Indian Cricket fans don’t just watch the match but are an integral part of it. It has become the most common discussion topic in a sports bar, on the dining table, at cafeterias, inside a corporate meeting room and with friends, colleagues, and families. Each one of them is a strategist in his own, is a selector, a coach, and also the most hands-on captain.
If you look around, everyone had picked their squad of 15 before the selections were announced and most had some or other reservations. Why Rishabh Pant was not selected, why Shankar, why not Rayudu, why not give emerging players like Shubhaman Gill or Prithvi Shaw a chance, why Dhoni, and also, why not Dhoni.
Not only they selected squad, each one had their own playing eleven, including the batting order. Whom to play when in which situation, and when to bring the bowling change, they know all. Each one knew and will continue to know more than the captain and the coach, Kohli, and Shastri, with suitable reasoning.
If Dhoni plays slow, there are millions of critiques. There are many more millions who also know that Dhoni always has a plan and why he plays like that to help India.
The 2011 World Cup victory under the leadership of Dhoni was special and helped more and more people share the happiness and connect with the sport. India, Pakistan and the World Cup is yet another eternal love ‘Mauka-Mauka’ triangle, and all seems right with the world when we face off on the big stage, and our side wins.
India has opened the 2019 World Cup also in a stunning style with big wins over South Africa and Pakistan and hasn’t looked back. Everyone in India is taking this World Cup immensely seriously.
India’s performance at the World Cup isn’t just about winning; it’s about injecting a billion people with the energizing hope and belief. Indian fans treat the players as their warriors fighting for the honor of their tribe. When the warrior wins, he is put on a pedestal and worshipped, and when he fails, then he must face the wrath of the tribe.
India’s cricketers know what’s expected of them, and are doing everything to remain as calm as their fans are not. The way this tournament is heading, we are just one defeat away from effigy burning and two wins away from a memorable, everlasting national festival.
Bring it on!
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