why we go bonkers over cricket

School children wave as they hold a poster of Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar at an event to honour him in ChennaiBy S Murlidharan

One can never imagine that a day will come when Sachin will touch second century of test matches but his determination made it possible.

On a day when Sachin Tendulkar is being feted on the eve of his retirement, marking the sunset of his illustrious career, it would be an act of party-pooping, nay heresy to say anything against cricket and cricketers. But the youth of this country especially must be told what incalculable harm the nation is doing to other sports by mistaking sports with cricket and vice-versa. There is this apocryphal story of Kapil Dev, another Indian cricketing legend, who it is believed was keen on becoming a sprinter but was dissuaded from pursuing this passion by his wise elder brother. He gave the most prescient advice possible — even if you win a gold medal, you would soon be forgotten and get nothing more than a footnote status in India’s sporting annals.

He could perhaps have added for good measure that this game of cricket was a lambi race ka gora (a horse that would be good for a long haul) and that it was large-hearted enough to accommodate players from teens to pot-bellied middle age like no other save chess, golf and billiards. Heeding his brother’s sagacious advice, the youngster is said to have sublimated his energies with vengeance into cricket which catapulted him not only into the hall of Indian cricketing fame but got him a lot of moolah as well. Abhinav Bindra another sportsperson from Chandigarh could be ruing his decision to become a shooter and the fact that he did not have an equally sagacious brother. His efforts won him and the country the first non-hockey Olympic gold medal but that is about all. The nation itself seems to have forgotten him except that a few brave men especially from the armed forces have been training their guns on this game of skill despite knowing there is no money or enduring fame in it apart from the evanescent rewards the moment brings.

What makes us go bonkers over cricket? Is the country still hung-over from the colonial pastime? Is it in our nation’s DNA? Or is it the dawning realisation that no other sport in India is as financially rewarding as cricket and that while investing in any sport is fraught, investing in cricket at least has the potential to pay itself back sooner or later? Sadly, the last seems to be the uncomfortable, bitter truth. Money makes the mare go. Sports are no exception to this time tested adage.

School children wave as they hold a poster of Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar at an event to honour him. Reuters School children wave as they hold a poster of Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar at an event to honour him. Reuters

To be sure, one cannot blame the youngsters and their parents for making a pitch for cricket or cinema. Despite the very high attrition rate, the two beckon a lot of people either out of passion or when they are on their limbs out to prove something. The IPL circus has served to accentuate this tendency what with excessive money in circulation seeking more players who are sons of soil.

Feeding this frenzy is the media hype which in turn is fed by the advertising support. The world of marketing especially advertising too puts the money where the mouth is — you get more bang for your ad spends woven round cricket and cricketing events, period. Well, they may be indeed getting more bang for their clients given the immense pester power of children — a lot of them drink Boost or Pepsi merely because their icon, their heartthrob Sachin or Dhoni is shown on television screens drinking them.

Every man needs his fix. Cricket and cinema have been India’s enduring fixes but they have left the nation with debilitating side effects. Come Olympics, the same cheerleaders who are accustomed to singing hosannas of cricket and cricketers, bemoan the nation’s sad lack of talent beyond cricket and some go through the motions of even berating cricket and cinema as being the proximate cause for this malaise.

The other game we were once good at, hockey, is slowly eluding success for us with skill replacing stamina more and more thanks to constant changing of rules of the game in the manner of shifting the goalpost.

There have been many instances where star performers from other sports have made no secret of their frustration with cricketers walking away with all money and adulation.

Cricket has largely remained a commonwealth game, as it were. Besides by England and Australia the two of the major sporting nations in the world, it is played by India, Pakistan, New Zealand and a clutch of islands in the Caribbean banded together as West Indies. Why hasn’t the game held appeal to others especially the other major sporting nations has remained a mystery.

China, Germany, the USA, Russia, Japan, South Korea to name just a few have shown scant regard for the game, may be on the ground that it is a leisurely and idle pastime though China has lately been evincing interest in the game perhaps in its single-minded desire to humble India in disciplines it has reared its head proudly. The three areas China lags behind India are Cricket, English speaking and computing skills. It seems to be determined to worst us on each of these fronts sooner or later.

Olympics is the ultimate testing ground for a nation’s sporting prowess. It has however become the occasion for making the sad refrain every time — China as populous as India gets more than one hundred gold medal but we send our blessings skyward even if we win one or two bronze or silver medals or a combination of them or words to this effect.

To get down to brass-tacks, we need to wean away our youngsters from the blandishments and delusions provided by cricket and cinema. And this has to be done early on in a child’s life. Catch them young is taken seriously by China which has gone to the other extreme of catching them so young and putting them through the grueling grind of sports factories that it has attracted international opprobrium.

But such opprobrium is any day more flattering if not edifying than being branded a nation of couch potatoes. Yes, our elders compound their passivity before the television screens by roping in children of the family too into this vicarious act of passive enjoyment. We need to evolve a national sports policy that would at least supply a serious blueprint for winning at least one gold medal more in successive Olympics.

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