Observers have long noted that cricket in India is akin to a religion, and one of the fundamentalist kinds at that. All the money in the game comes from India’s monstrous fan base, which regularly tunes into the latest ODIs and, albeit to a lesser extent, the Test matches.
Ashis Nandy, an Indian sociologist, has also argued that cricket is primarily an Indian game, accidentally invented by the English. His point, which depends on a rather essentialist definition of “Indian-ness,” is that cricket is a game about fate, not human agency. Players battle not only against each other, but against elements beyond their control or abilities — weather, cloud conditions, pitch reports, unexpected injuries — and this all, at least in Nandy’s account, better accords with the Indian spirit.
All that said, however, the new nationalist, hyped and confident modern India has very little respect for the nuances of the game, or its unpredictable facets. Cricket isn’t India’s passion; it’s just the best show around: once the hockey team started fading, and after the Amritaj brothers retired from tennis, a nice vacuum appeared, which India was only happy to fill in 1983, with the World Cup win.
Cricket follows a familiar pattern of other sports: it’s not the game that matters, it’s whether India is winning. The results are what counts: witness the wildly disproportionate reactions to India’s Twenty20 victory last year. Before the tournament, the selectors were only too happy to send a rag-team of novices and youngsters, caring little for what they could actually achieve.
This is precisely why I’m so wary of the IPL-ICL schemes. First of all, there’s only so match Twenty20 I can take, and if it’s contained within 2 weeks, all the better. But more than that, the problem lies with loyalty and symbolism. The IPL recognizes that to a certain extent, which is why each regional team is headed by a local hero — Sehwag in Delhi, or Laxman in Hyderabad, and so on — but will that be enough? Apart from the initial attraction of seeing Hayden play against, say, Symonds, I just can’t understand how to watch a tournament with no villains, no heroes, and no sides at all.