How To Wean The Indian Consumer Off Cricket

Over at Tehelka, Suresh Menon has a well-written (but fairly predictable) take on the legacy of India’s Big Four. I’ll have to deal with its larger thesis later, but I did want to make a point about one of Menon’s asides. Here’s the passage:

Had the Indian public turned its back on the game after Azharuddin admitted that he had used his supple wrists not just for scoring runs but for counting his ill-gotten wealth too, Indian cricket might not have recovered.

That players of the calibre of Dravid, Kumble and others emerged around the same period might have been a coincidence, but it was a necessary antidote to the shenanigans of an earlier generation. The golden age was also about restoring the public’s faith in the national obsession.

Do you think that’s right? Do you think that it took players of great caliber to bring the Indian cricket fan back to the game? Because, to my mind, there’s very little the Indian cricket fan won’t watch (other than maybe games against Zim and Bangladesh). There’s very little that could happen — match-fixing, whatever — that will wean him off the habit. This isn’t a comment about Indian culture; here in America, baseball, football and running have all been rocked by scandals recently (steroids for the first two; sex abuse for the second), and it’s unclear to me that any fan has turned against any sport as a result.

In other words, even if the player quality dipped after Azhar, I’m pretty certain Indian fans would have kept watching. That’s because there’s nothing else in Indian sport to watch. Football  has a regional following (south and east); Indian hockey hasn’t been cool since my father’s day, and tennis/archery/chess are all rather uppity pursuits. The problem is that there’s a bubble around cricket in India; once you get past the game, there are the media outlets, the endorsements/advertising and products, the politicians running around everywhere. The odds that a new sport can break this empire are too low.

Why should we care? After all, we are all cricket fans, right? Well, as I learned in high school econ, monopolies are bad, and if cricket’s administrators take the fans for granted (as they clearly do when it comes to selling tickets at stadiums), then we’re being cheated as consumers. There’s also the problem that so many money chasing this sport may lead to some greedy characters doing shady things. So here’s my question: were there periods when you stopped watching Indian cricket? When were they, and why?

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