If South American nations like Brazil and Argentina, European countries like England, Spain and France have football, then India has cricket. The game is not just a sport for the 1.4 billion people, but it the greatest unifier of our country, cutting across religion, caste and the language barrier.
Never in the history of any country, has a single sport brought such jubilation. But, cricket is certainly pushing the division in Indians aside and making them come under that blue colour of the team jersey and of course the national flag.
In the day and age of social media, where spreading fake news to create hatred amongst each other has become a norm, our ‘Men in Blue’ are conquering the England stadiums in the English summer to make us world champions for the third time. Patriotism is at the peak and if we go by the words of cricket commentator Harsh Bhogle, he said a very interesting thing especially during the India-Pakistan match. “Let the game of cricket be played on the ground, it’s just a sport and not a war,” he said.
A brief history
The game of cricket was part of the British legacy which India revered as the game of kings. It is also referred to as the gentlemen’s game, but as of now, the gentleman in the game has diminished and taken over by sledging and raw emotions on the field.
During the game’s development, the royal families were the one who adopted this game. From then on, it became popular with the elites and also wannabe elites who could hobnob with the British royalty. After this brief period, it percolated down and became popular with the masses.
The rise of cricket in India
One of the greatest and the most historic day for India was when Kapil Dev and his team won the 1983 World Cup. The introduction of colour TV during the 1980 Asian Games, made the game further popular. The Indian masses now had found an alternative to the transistor radios for running cricket commentary and live score.
The second major push that surged the popularity of cricket was the 1985 Kerry Packer-led World Championship, which India won. The series was telecast live and the Indian masses went hysterical and watched in amazement. It was a completely different experience to watch Indian cricketers wearing coloured clothing and playing at night under the floodlights.
The next big push was given by a young cricketer by the name of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The boy from Ranchi, who once worked as a Ticket Collector, led India to its first ever T-20 Cricket World Cup victory in 2007.
This rang the bells in Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and eventually led to the inaugural Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2008. The T-20 league not just propelled India into a cricketing superpower, but gave players from various backgrounds, a chance to showcase their skills with the world’s best players.
The popularity was at the peak during the 2011 World Cup hosted by India. The whole nation was praying from a win as they wanted to give a parting gift to the greatest cricketer of all time, Sachin Tendulkar. And things panned out very well, as India routed the likes of Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to lift the World Cup after 28 years.
It was the beginning of an era of cricket as the greatest unifier!
Cricket as a career choice
As a sport, the game of bat and the ball has grown immensely in India, with world-class infrastructure being provided, and stadiums being built all over the country. Talking about the rise of the game, Gaurav Nevrekar, cricket coach, who runs an academy at Pune’s Nehru stadium, said, “Today, the game has evolved at such a rapid pace that more than the children, it’s their parents who want their child to take cricket as a cricket a career opportunity. Gone are the days when we use to hear ‘cricket khel kar kya karega’ (what will you get playing cricket). In fact, I can see a glimmer of hope and trust in the parents’ eyes for their child to make a career in sport and not just cricket. More than the country’s unification, I think it’s the unification of parents and their children that has led to the rise of the game in such a way.”
With the Indian cricket team about to reach the semifinal of the ongoing 2019 Cricket World Cup being played in England, a billion supporters are praying for them to achieve the ultimate glory.
Without a doubt, the ‘Men in Blue’ will want to be in the Lord’s cricket ground balcony on July 14 (final match) and hopefully, lift the trophy and once again give all of us a reason to smile, dance, laugh and cry. If 1983 World Cup win was a dream, 2011, a realisation, 2019 will mean India’s ultimate dominance and the greatest unifier tag will always be upon our demi-gods called the Indian cricket team.