Hockey may be India’s national sport according to the textbooks. But in real life it is cricket that captures the imagination of the public. So pervasive is the sport, that one sometimes feels cut-off from the rest of the nation if the game if one isn’t a “keen student of the game”.
The popularity of the game owes itself to two very unrelated reasons. One, is India’s downhill slide as a world champion at hockey; and secondly, a well deserved, but surely chancy victory in the 1983 Cricket World Cup.
But cricket as a sport is dying. For all its beauty cricket as it is played on the international level is nothing like the game that is played on the street. This disconnect just keeps growing with each passing year, and with every new rule brought in to make the game “more exciting”.
Not even at school cricket level is the game remotely similar to the way our heroes play it. Starting with the 30-yeard rule, to the 15 over rule, to the super-sub. Cricket just keeps moving away from the way it is played by the common man.
No other game is so disconnected with the grassroots.
Even something as hi-tech as Formula 1 is still simple to follow and understand. But it requires no less than a mathematician to explain the Duckworth-Lewis rule. Not a single cricket fanatic I know knows how to compute the score based on this rule. No game in the back alleys of India counts the number of fielders in “catching positions”.
The game at the international level is skewed pathetically towards the batsman. The wise old men decided that runs were what the people were coming to see. While that maybe true on one level, there is no fun in watching the mauling of a hulk that is tied to a stake. Today any Tom, Dick or Harry with the strength to throw his bat can do well in the game, while artists have to fight for their place.
If the wise men of soccer had thought like their counterparts in cricket, we would have a rule that allowed the goalkeeper only one step in either direction of the position that he was standing at when the ball was struck.
If that sounds crazy, go back to the cricket rule book and see the number of rules that bind a bowler. Is it surprising then that while you can reel off almost 20 “great batsman” among the current players, there will be just about 5 “great bowlers”?
Cricket has to move back towards the grassroots if it need to continue to enjoy it position as India’s favorite sport.
The likes of Sania Mirza, and Narain Karthikeyan are fast emerging to take over as the icons of the youth. Cricket has to act now, or go the hockey way.