Sports not only entertain us but compliment our lives as well. For how long have we been listening quotes like “A healthy mind lives in a healthy body”, quite long I suppose. They act as an adhesive that binds people. If you are a football fan and visit a restro-bar in Europe during a football game, you will come out with some new friends. The same is true for Cricket in India.
But the way people look at sports in Europe is different than the way people approach sports in India. In the last four years, I never met anybody, not even a single soul who blames football for anything in Europe. Yes, of course, there are a lot of people who do not like football, but they never point fingers at the sport for their country‘s poor performance in any other sport. On the contrary, you could easily find a lot of people complaining and blaming cricket for different setbacks in India. Cricket is overemphasized, all the money is in Cricket and that’s why the country performs poorly in other sports. The dismal performance in Olympics is because the country likes and supports only Cricket. There are social media memes like “nobody paid attention to xyz player‘s gold as everybody was busy in Cricket.“ The negativity has reached such heights where there are protests against the game in different ways. The reasons could be any and be completely irrelevant to the game. Incidents like these give an impression that cricket in India is huge and is blocking other activities. At least some people believe that. But is the sport that big? Or how big is Cricket in India?
To fathom the impact or size of the cricket industry in India, we will have to compare it with major sports industries across different countries. Germany a country to 82 million people has 18 different teams in their Bundesliga or Federation League which is their official football competition. La Liga, the official football tournament in Spain (a country of 50 million people) has 20 teams. League 1, the official football tournament in France (a country of 70 million people) has 19 teams. And our biggest cricket tournament, IPL, Indian Premier League, the professional Cricket T20 league in India (a country to more than 1.25 billion people) has only 8 teams. Australia with 25 million population and six states hosts Big Bash League with 8 teams. Is cricket in India big? Compared to other countries our cricket industry looks tiny, let alone big.
This is not the complete picture. You could still make “quality vs quantity” argument. Do we rule the sport in the international arena? I don’t think so. We have won two world cups so far whereas Australia has won five. Our overseas winning ratio is still quite poor. We recently got a 4-1 humiliating defeat in England. Of course, we are basking in the glory of our Asia Cup triumph. But does it qualify to be a triumph? Afghanistan as a team just acquired the permit to play test cricket with other international teams and we could not defeat them. Our national team is found relying frequently on one or two top players; it transforms into a one-man army. What can be done about this? Why is this so? Some people obsessed with the caste systems find “reservation” as a solution to every problem. According to them, people of some castes don’t get a chance, and that’s why the true talent goes undiscovered. It is true that most of the talent goes undiscovered, but caste is not the reason. If we look at IPL, less than 200 players get a chance to hone their skills during the tournament. The players who represent India now are mostly from these 200 players. It is this constrained pool size which is responsible for this loss.
We have 29 different states and 7 Union Territories, 8 teams can never represent the talent from all these entities. Can they? There could at least be 36 different teams, increasing the pool size to select players for the national team from, by several folds. More players would get the required exposure. Instead of asking for more number of teams in IPL and representation from all the states and all nooks and crannies of India, people ask for despicable things like reservation. People try to make cricket a tool for their sick politics. Statements like sports unite people; it is like a religion; we should use it to mend relationships with our neighboring countries are mere talks. We still do not have an IPL team representing the states in the northeast, which are popularly called the seven sisters. Why? Where are the teams for two major groups of islands we have, the Lakshadweep and the Andaman and Nicobar? Where is the team for Jammu and Kashmir? We talk about cross borders love and inclusion, and yet we have not included our own in our biggest and most successful league. Perhaps this is why the t.v. debates on cricket bridging the gaps between the two countries look hypocrisy and nothing more than a pretentious intellectualism.
This is not all. We don’t even use all our stadiums for international games. 14 out of the active 21 cricket stadiums have hosted less than 6 test matches so far. Twelve of them have hosted less than 10 One Day International matches. Adding to this, out of the other ‘former’ 30 stadiums, the stats are dismal. Only 4 out of 30 have hosted more than 10 tests and 8 out of 30 have hosted more than 10 ODIs. The stadiums were an investment, weren’t they? Shouldn’t they be utilized? If Dubai could host cricket matches for other countries without a team of their own, why can’t we? We could at least invite the Asian countries who are at a nascent stage in the cricket world to play in India. Wouldn’t this help us use our already created stadiums? A win-win for all, they get the infrastructure to use along with some experience and we get business. Sports and tourism go hand in hand. By the way, how many of India’s Cricket Stadium stand out in the list of top 10 or top 20 stadiums in the world?
Expanding the already established cricket industry is comparatively easy and extremely beneficial, but we Indians are so adamant to be the laggards that we push it down every minute. Indian Premier League according to BCCI (Board of Cricket Control of India) contributed 11.5 Billion Rupees to the Indian GDP in the year 2015. And this number is not even comparable to what other similar tournaments are making for their countries. Football industry generates around 5 Billion Euros for Germany every year. La-Liga of Spain gives a boost to their GDP and generates around 7.6 Billion Euros. These countries have a population smaller than individual states of India; they combined would be less than the population of UP. The sports market in North America was worth $60.5 billion in 2014. It is expected to reach $73.5 billion by 2019.
The cricket Industry in India can provide a solution for some of the complex problems like unemployment. In this era, we will have to let go of our proclivity of Government Jobs. We need to start taking a holistic approach towards cricket or for that matter any sport and not just fixate on one particular aspect of it. It opens a wide window for Made In India sports products. There is more and more inclusion of technology in cricket and other sports. Sophisticated equipments like snickometer, etc. and what not are used these days, they require skilled engineers to manufacture and maintain them. Stadiums need maintenance staff, they also need to be upgraded. Tourism is an indirect beneficiary of high profile matches. This is not a complete list of all the possible jobs, there are many more. It does not make sense in pulling the industry down by any means.
It seems that the people of India are getting overwhelmed by the singles and doubles even though there are opportunities to score sixes and fours. We are sitting on a gold mine, we just don’t see it yet. Cricket presents us with an opportunity to rectify our problems, millions and millions of cricket enthusiasts are our USP, we should use the cricket industry to its full potential.