Discovering Indian-ness – Part I: Cricket
(As an effort to revive my blog, this is the first part of a multi part series on things that connect us as Indians, a common thread running through us. I am not sure how frequently will I be able to update the series, how many parts will there be to this series, or even if there will be a next part. I very well realize that I run the risk of stereotyping Indians, but it is a part of an introspection process. The idea is borrowed from Zhu’s blog, who is writing a series on Canadians.
It would be the most obvious thing to say that we are such a diverse country. Some say there are 2 Indias, many go on to say there are too many Indias to count. And yet, we have not just survived 60 years as a nation, but we have whole-heartedly embraced the Indian identity, despite our differences, be they religious, linguistic, social or any of the many parameters that lead to the diversity of the nation. So what is it that forms an Indian within us? What is it that generates uniform sentiments amongst most of us, if not all of us? In this series, I will try my level best to answer these questions. Criticisms, ideas, opinions are all welcome)
Based on the above background, it would be anyone’s guess that my first article should be dedicated to cricket.
Yes, Cricket! The topic on which every Indian has an opinion on, must have played some time in his life and thinks he can do a better job than the captain/coach leading the men in blue on the field. Hockey may be our official national sport, but to borrow from Pepsi, there is nothing official about cricket. If there is a cricket match, you can bet what the topic of conversation for the next few days is going to be. Cricket pervades through coffee tables, dinner conversations, roadsides, class rooms, tea-shacks, i.e. the works. If there is a TV in the open anywhere in the neighborhood, you can be sure that there will be a small crowd around it. Cricket is a universal ice-breaker in India, and people who have just met become close friends just based on cricket conversations.
Cricket is an import from England, but the sport has been truly Indianised. The Brits watch cricket with gentlemanly grace, Australians and South Africans with a can of beer, the West Indians with a touch of Calypso, but Indians watch it with passionate fervor, with devotion to the game. The Indian cricket team may not be the best in the world (except for the shortest version of the game), but I am sure every team would love to have supporters like the Indian cricket fans.
Cricket is played across the country, from east to west and north to south. Gully cricket is an important part of formative years of any kid in India. It doesn’t matter if you have the equipment or not, you can play cricket anywhere. The bat may take the form of a flat piece of wood, Thaapi (a washing instrument) from the wash room or just a hard cover book. Any kind of ball will do, and if it’s not there, a rolled up piece of paper or a small, rounded stone serves the purpose. Any place is good enough to serve as the cricket pitch, be it an open ground, the staircase, the road or even classrooms during the recess. Your skill level is also no restriction for playing cricket, although being good certainly provides its own bragging rights.
But bragging rights aren’t limited to playing the sport. Your knowledge of the sport is as important. Most Indians are arm-chair cricketers, who love to talk cricket. At such times, being able to throw in obscure cricket facts, pulling out player statistics and talking of on-field incidents can make you very popular. But be careful not to bluff, as it is very easy to get caught, given the mania surrounding the game. And that would be very embarrassing.
Indian cricketers have demi-god status in India, and are the richest cricketers in the world. Fan support remains unparalleled in the cricket world and can rival any other sport. The Indian cricketers earn more from product endorsement than from playing the sports. However, this fan support has curtailed their public life severely, as Indian cricketers can’t be seen in public, as they carry the risk of being mobbed. However, the ire of fans is as passionate as their support. The average cricket fan takes defeat and non-performance very seriously. Even Sachin was booed in his home ground following India’s disgraceful exit from the World Cup. Past greats have faced the same fate, with both Gavaskar and Kapil facing questions on their role in the team towards the end of their careers. Sachin and Saurav have just managed to silence critics asking for their retirement.
There are critics of the sport in India. Most of them consider it a waste of time, considering the length of a game. Others are just put off by the hype surrounding the game. Many accuse cricket of ruining the development of other sports in India. Still others aren’t able to digest the home team’s inconsistent performances. However, even the critics find it hard to ignore cricket, and you shouldn’t really be surprised if you find a critic as ardently following cricket.
Cricket has gone beyond the status of sport in India, and has often been referred to as a religion in India. However the passion for the sport is limited to international matches. Only recently has there been any interest in local leagues, which is essential for the development of the sports, as well as cricket retaining its status in India. I hope the interest continues, as cricket continues its status as the unofficial sport of India.
Jeetega bhai Jeetega!!!