ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Cricket: Imagining the Nation

Competitive team sport has always and simultaneously been an arena for patriotic display. The ancient Olympics pitted one city-state against the other, while the modern Olympics has often suffered from the vagaries of international political relations, especially those between the two cold war superpowers. In India, whose history of sporting excellence has been limited, cricket stands in for displays of unabashed patriotism. A cricket encounter involving the nation fosters a near identical look in cities and small towns across the country, with milling crowds outside shop fronts or at select railway platforms. It allows that rare camaraderie between strangers, and a chance for the ordinary, normal person to indulge in emotions she would not have otherwise evinced. Victory is celebrated and defeats, as with the Indian team’s recent and early exit from the 2007 world cup, agonised over.

Unlike football or hockey, games where India did enjoy some prominence till the 1960s, cricket has been able to keep pace with the times. Hockey and football were unable to adjust to the demands of a new age, a more aggressive playing style and even modern methods, and India’s decline in these sports has been painful to witness. Cricket’s rise in India, on the other hand, seemingly complemented India’s growing engagement with the global marketplace. The world cup victory in 1983, followed a year after the advent of colour television broadcasting in the country, and the 1990s, the decade of economic liberalisation, saw a dramatic upswing in the fortunes of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. The game drew in more sponsorships, different television channels wrangled for telecast rights and the viewership the game came to command rose in an unprecedented manner. Such is the embrace between commerce and the popularity of cricket in India that advertisement revenue from the country, and to a lesser extent from Pakistan, now fills the coffers of the game at the world stage. Cricket’s popularity led also to a shift away from the metropolis to mofussil towns. And even as cricketers simultaneously morphed into heroes, they also quixotically became familiar, everyday figures, from the products of regular, common use that many of them now endorse – a fact that arguably permits fans and followers alike to claim some ownership of the cricketer, almost on the same footing as a film actor, whose market appeal is decided by box-office popularity.

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