Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Future of Cricket?

I must admit this that it was the first time I watched a match from the first to the last ball after that famous quarter final encounter between the Indian and the Pakistani side during the 1996 Wills World Cup!
After gorging on Kangaroo steaks and pulping the Pakistani greens into a spicy chutney, the Indian team was a worthy entrant into the finals. And before the match, I tweeted that India deserved a good cup of Ceylon tea after the match.
But we all were disappointed to see Sachin and Sehwag get out in the first few overs, courtesy, the killer blonde, Malinga. Isn't it true that our countrymen have created a major hype around these so called "stalwarts"? How is it that despite their calibre, they always fail to deliver when they are most expected to?
Had this scenario played out a decade ago, the whole team would then have fallen like a pack of cards, but leading from the front is what mattered this time. Captain Dhoni's unbeaten knock alongwith the stabilising partnership of Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli silenced the lion's roar.
The rest was history! The cup was ours!
Yes, I said "ours" and not Sachin's. This team played for India, under India's tricolour and not for Sachin, so was it fair for the to be termed as Sachin's cup (is Sachin bigger than India?), especially when his contribution was a big naught in the victory?
But full marks to Dhoni and Gary Kirsten. It was Dhoni's maturity to take all this crap about this being an individual's cup in his stride, obviously he knew the cup was India's.
Isn't it true that the IPL was a game changer for Indian cricket - exposure to international players in franchisee teams helped us learn from their techniques, strategies, training techniques, etc. making them more confident and less dependent on the so-called biggies? We cannot take away the credit that is due to Lalit Modi for this.
The celebrations that followed the cup victory were spontaneous and lusty. The streets in Bombay were clogged with revellers on bikes and cars, with vuvuzelas, waving the tricolour (I had never seen so many tricolours in one place), with bystanders enthusiastically cheering those on cars and bikes. The festivities went on till early in the morning.
The spontaneous outburst of joy erupted in Delhi too, with a crowd as big as the Holy Ganga that flowed in and around the India Gate. And that was a great opportunity for the "First Family" of Indian politics to attempt to wash off all the sins of this government -- corruption and inaction and lethargy in this flowing Ganga of humanity!!!!
This is the popularity of cricket in the Indian sub-continent, but it isn't the same elsewhere. Rugby is more popular in Australia, football is more popular than cricket in England.
For cricket to be an commercially viable game, internationally, it has to take on soccer - today it isn't. Television viewership proves this. The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa had a viewership of 400 million per match, as against only 67 million for the finals of 2011 ICC World Cup. That speaks a lot about the global popularity of the game.
That is because cricket, internationally, is a game of the "bada sahebs" with only 10 nations entitled to play test matches (and world cups), despite having 105 members - the remaining 95 "minnows" have to compete amongst themselves to earn their right to participate! In the long run, this apartheid is not good for the commercial success of the game.
Let's not forget being a "minnow" does not mean that the teams are weak or don't have any potential, as ICC's apartheid makes it out to be. Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe were associate members or minnows once. Sri Lanka went on to win the cup in 1996, while despite the talent, cricket in Zimbabwe got messed up in the Mugabe tangle.
What gives these 10 nations the birthright to participate in World Cups and tests, despite some of them pathetically performing, like say Zimbabwe, in this World Cup? Even the minnow, Ireland, was better than Zimbabwe this time around.
Should cricket not evolve like football, where regional qualifiers would determine who goes into the world cup? That way the minnows would get exposed to the so called biggies and this would also boost the popularity of the game in the countries where cricket is still evolving.
So if, say, Brazil has to play a Suriname in the Latin American qualifiers to earn a berth in the FIFA World Cup, India could do well to play against say Singapore or Afghanistan, or say, even Australia compete with the minnows of the Pacific, Papua New Guinea or Fiji to earn their respective berths in the ICC World Cup. The future of cricket lies in making it an inclusive game.
We did win the cup, it was a joyous occasion, but cricket still remains the opium of the masses, the intoxicant that stops the nation in its tracks (some of India's biggest corporates had an unofficial half day on the day of the most emotional, India-Pakistan encounter). Is that not a waste of valuable resources?
But for now, let the feel good factor last, till the next scam breaks out! And let me enjoy my cup of Ceylon tea!

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