Thursday, June 02, 2005

Cricket popularity - why?

Ever so often, we hear a familiar tune on the state of Indian sports. How cricket is hogging all the money and bandwidth and eyeballs and how other sports are neglected because of cricket and the excessive attention given to it.

But it wasnt always like this was it? Hockey was an all time favourite once upon a time. Football still has its fans. Did it so happen that one fine day, cricket matches began to be telecast and the people took to cricket? Is the popularity of cricket only to do with media? I personally think that it is not, atleast not in entirety. Cricket becoming popular in India has another reason that being cricket is perhaps the best sport that can be played (in India) on a casual basis.

Football and Hockey need a fair amount of space. Most places in India apart from the villages do not have them. Where there is space, multiple groups/teams congregate. Cricket is one of the only games that can be almost be played with a reasonable amount of interference from another game nearby. Purists may not agree with this but Check out Cross maidan mumbai and you will know what I mean.

In the constricted spaces of apartment complexes or urban townships, playing any other game would either mean that 4 people play and the rest watch, so the game that can be played would be the one that makes the best use of space. An L shaped compound is a great place to play cricket. A small space is also quite good to play cricket, underarm, overarm, throwarm... whatever.

Equipment needs are minimal in cricket. One bat, a ball and a pair of slippers for stumps. Sure football is close, but seen in conjunction with the above constraint of spaces, it is not. Why not volleyball or basketball? Again, specialisted surfaces are needed, or sand. Both are out of question in most places.Badminton is good for leisure (Remember Jeetendra and Leena Chandavarkar and "Dhal gaya din"). Tennis is elitist. Table tennis can be played anywhere but needs some specialised place.

Our playgrounds have little grass. Yes, come monsoon, it is easiest to play football, but thats only when the ground is too soggy for cricket. Cricket is perhaps the game that can survive in these maidans.

Cricket also has the big advantage of not having, any problems with a break in continuity. Imagine you are playing on a road (which is where a lot of cricket happens) and there is a car which needs you to stop the game and let the car pass. If its football or hockey, once there is a break, the rhythm is gone. with cricket, you move the stumps, let the car pass and start again. With cricket and close in fielders, it allows ample scope for banter between all the players involved which is another of is attractions. There have been other theories floating around like the fact that cricket does not need fitness, Indias abhor contact sports etc. etc., none of which I think are important as the fact that cricket utilises spaces most efficiently.

This is also one of the reasons why hockey will never become as popular as it once was in the villages. With open land becoming scarce, few smooth hockey conducive surfaces, cricket will hold fort as Indias favourite game for a while.

So why do Brazilians play football? Perhaps there is an answer there too! Or perhaps nobody introduced them to cricket!

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