Cricket : A Religion that Unites
In the words of the famous cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle, Cricket most certainly is India’s longest-running soap opera. He continues on to say, “It’s got everything that you’d want a normal soap opera to have: It’s got love, joy, happiness, sadness, tears, laughter, lots of deceit, and intrigue. Like all good soaps, it jumps 20 years when the audience interest changes.”
That is precisely what cricket is all about in India- a soap opera that everyone is absolutely crazy about!
The origins of this collective craze for a predominantly English game can’t be traced back to an exact point in history, but the seeds of this obsession were sown way back in India’s colonial past. Contrary to popular belief cricket in India did not evolve from Gulli-danda but was brought to the subcontinent by English sailors in the 1700s. Even though their initial intentions involved “trading in the subcontinent” the East India Company and eventually England ended up colonising the subcontinent. With colonialism came attempts to impose English culture on the natives of the country. So began the story of a game in the subcontinent, so crazy that I’m writing an article about it today!
Thus, by the 1920s cricket became a popular sport in various regions of the subcontinent with different all-white clubs forming and competing against each other. This was also around when the affluent Indians (the royals) started showing an interest in the game. This was mainly because whatever the English did back then was considered “high-class” and the “norm”. This interest in the game and the mindset of the colonised slowly trickled down to the common population of the subcontinent. It wasn’t long before various teams were formed (on the basis of caste and religion) and the native population, too, started competing against each other. This led to the Bombay triangular series, the Bombay Quadrangular series, and the Bombay Pentangular series matches.
Around the same time two cricketers, Rajitsinhji and Duleepsinhji were proving the talent and merit of Indian cricketers in England, but they both played for the English cricket team.
Then in 1932 led by C.K. Nayudu, India made its first test debut in England. But from there up until the 1950s, we were still considered a “weak” team. After our independence in 1947, there was a huge uproar to ban cricket in India so that the country wasn’t constantly reminded of its horrific colonial past. But later on, it was considered a catalyst in breaking the deep-rooted caste system that was prevalent at the time. It was seen as a way to unite an otherwise battered and bruised country that was trying very hard not to be a slave to her past.
In fact, India did manage to break free from her past in the coming years, and she did it well! In 1952, after the formation of the BCCI and the commencement of the Ranji Trophy India witnessed two landmark victories in cricket- the first, was our first test victory against England and the second was our first series victory against Pakistan. This is the time that gave Indian cricket legends like Tiger Pataudi, Bishan Singh Bedi, EAS Prasanna, Gundappa Vishwanath and many others. Even though in the 1970s India found the switch from test matches to One Day Cricket a bit difficult to catch up with, a lot of its apprehension turned into joy when we lifted our very first world cup in 1983 with no prior ODI experience. This victory along with the advent of coloured television and the expansion of the live telecast trend in India is what heralded the religion of cricket in India.
Another reason why cricket caught on so well in India was the fact that it, unlike hockey, is an extremely accessible and versatile game that could be played practically anywhere. It could be played in house courtyards, mohalla streets, chawls, abandoned grounds, and even house verandas. The possibilities were endless and this is where gully cricket was born. This variant of the game had comparatively looser rules and gave us cricketing marvels like Sachin Tendulkar, M.S Dhoni, etc.
Then came liberalization and the T-20 fever which gave us commercial cricketing events like the Indian Premier League. After India’s first-ever T-20 world cup win in 2007, the IPL was introduced to India in 2008. IPL was quite a stride away from the traditional format of cricket that the Indian viewers were used to. It had pomp and pageantry, biddings and auctions for domestic as well as international players, cheerleaders, loud music, DJs, and numerous other exciting additions. India had finally started thinking big! In fact, by 2017 the IPL was valued at 39,800 Crores of rupees!
Even though the Indian women’s cricket teams made it to the World Cup finals and semifinals on many occasions they never seemed to share the same limelight that the men’s team enjoyed in India. The women were often disregarded and discredited in the sport. As a result even today there is a disparity in the amount a female cricketer and a male cricketer earn.
It definitely is mind-blowing that something that was used as a medium of oppression back in our colonial days is what made India the centre of cricket throughout the world. Something that was used to oppress us is what unites us today, across all religions and communities. Thus, cricket most definitely is considered a religion in India. A religion that unites, a religion that is above all others. Though the success of cricket for and in India has been great, I hope that this success isn’t just limited to men’s cricket. It’s time we recognise and appreciate the immense talent of the women in blue as well!