For a sport which originated in a European country (England), cricket’s popularity in the continent has continued to remain abysmally low. Only the countries within the British Commonwealth has shown significant interest in the gentleman’s game apart from countries with sizeable “desi” population where cricket continues to thrive albeit in an amateurish manner.
What explains the apathy of Caucasians of Europe towards the sport hailed as the second most popular in the world in terms of viewership? Contrary to popular notion, cricket was played in places like Italy and Germany as early as in the 19th century. But with social churning especially post the World Wars, the sports found itself out of favour with the masses. It was deemed as too much elitist, a past time of the rich. On the other hand football, a game involving blood and sweat immensely attracted the beer guzzling working class.
European cricket federation which was later reconstituted as European Cricket Council has tried to do its best to make the game popular in Europe. But so far success has been moderate to put it mildly. The major impediment to the sport breaking barriers has been its complex laws. It is tough to convince a newbie why a ball pitching outside the off stump and hitting your pad can get you out but the same rule doesn’t apply when the ball pitches outside the leg stump. Why a match played for 5 days can end with an inconclusive result can rarely be fathomed by a novice and we are not even broaching the topic of Duckworth Lewis method which even cricketers can’t comprehend.
Speaking of D/L method, another reason why cricket has had limited reach in the continent is the weather condition. The game thrives best in tropics where the sun beats down and cricketers play in flat pitches. How often we have seen games getting interrupted and shortened in England. Now imagine the weather condition further north in Europe. Half of the time pitches are not “ready” for play. According to amateurs playing the sports in places like Belgium, France, Germany, Italy etc. lack of proper playing condition has been a major obstacle.
Since the game is not “mainstream” in most countries, the minority which is interested gets very little patronage from their board or the government. This means they primarily play in the weekends in makeshift pitches which ensures gaping hole in skill development and match practice. Thus they are easily defeated by the big boys as and when they get to play ensuring cricket maintains its relative anonymity in major European countries.
If cricket was an Olympic sport with the best talents getting a chance to showcase their skills in front of millions in a truly global platform, it could have attracted some fresh enthusiasts. But BCCI with its amazing shortsightedness has effectively killed that possibility. They have ensured that the sport is not even part of Commonwealth or Asian Games.
Thankfully another of BCCI’s “creation” IPL may just be the way to generate interest in the sport in non-traditional centres. Wafered down 20- 20 version of the original 5 day event may well be the last roll of the dice to make cricket popular in virgin territories like Europe. Eagerly looking forward to the day of seeing random YouTube videos of Russians debating greatness of Sachin and Bradman!!