“When Sachin played, life happened.” Facebook posts of this nature are common in a country where the little master enjoyed an almost cult following from millions of supporters who rooted for his each run, cried with his each failure. Such is the effect of Sachin within our society that he became the youngest recipient of the Bharat Ratna award last year post retirement.
I started with the example of Sachin because sporting icons like Viswanathan Anand, Mary Kom, Pankaj Advani etc has reached epic heights in their own respective sports but they never enjoyed even a fraction of mass following Sachin Tendulkar continues to receive till date. What explains this phenomenon is the fact that Sachin played a far more popular sports, cricket.
History of Cricket in India
Now to the question of reason behind popularity of cricket in India it is certainly amazing that a sports primarily started by the white sahibs of UK to enjoy their time in a leisurely manner has found its most devoted followers here. In the beginning the game flourished among the rich and the mighty thanks to patronage of their colonial masters. India even before gaining Independence started playing test cricket from 1932.
A significant spike in popularity came post-Independence. For a new country still bearing the brunt of partition with a large proportion of the population poor and helpless, win in popular sports like cricket and hockey came as a balm of patriotism to forget all the pains.
India which won its first test match in 1952 was fortunate to be blessed with exceptional players even when sports was played at handful of cities and with very little infrastructure. Wins in foreign land was hard to come by yet when it came like those in England under Ajit Wadekar in 1971 and that in West Indies courtesy double century by Sunil Gavaskar the common folks turned hysteric. Back home the team scripted many a history thanks to fabled spin quartet of Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Prasanna and Venkatragavan. As dedicated fan bases compared between solidity of Gavaskar to subtlety of Gundappa Viswanath cricket slowly was en route to become the most popular sport in India.
Why Cricket is so popular than hockey
But it was still primarily a city sports. All these changed post 1983. Led by India’s finest all rounder Kapil Dev the team pulled off a seemingly impossible win to clinch the World Cup. The mass euphoria that followed was heightened by the happy accident that TV sets were starting to enter homes of Indian middle class. Thus with live telecast of matches even in smaller centres cricket became the default option for kids. An entire generation of cricketers emerged taking the game to new heights.
Hockey, our national sports unfortunately followed a reverse trend. India 8 times Olympic Gold Medalist fell off the international radar roughly around the 80’s. Failing to adopt to the artificial turf and to the new rules which made the game far more physical, Indian hockey floundered and that resulted in a dip in its popularity. Playing hockey was no longer “cool” even in traditional centres .
Behind cricket’s increasing popularity role of BCCI should also be mentioned. For all their shortfalls successive BCCI presidents had the foresight to market the game effectively. An entire new generation is now attracted to the sports thanks to IPL. The money the sport generated has ensured people take it seriously both on and off the field. Hockey on the other hand is now trying to get its act together. League in the line of IPL has been started.
The national team is currently taking part in the World Cup but there is very little buzz in the media. Probably the fact that India is unlikely to win has a role in it. But the officials shouldn’t give up and try to change the course. “Achche din” may just be round the corner!!
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