Decoding India's love of cricket

Cricket, now termed as the unofficial national sport of India, has got an old history associated with its existence in the country. The oldest references to the sport in India can be dated as early as the year 1725 when some sailors played a friendly match at a seaport in Kutch. By the year 1792, the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club had been formed, and a yet another Cricket club had been formed at Seringapatam by the year 1799.

Beginning of First Class Cricket 
As far as the beginning of First Class Cricket in India is concerned, it was marked by a match played between Madras and Calcutta in the year 1864. In the year 1877, the Bombay Presidency Match was played for the first time. Later, it first changed into the Bombay Triangular and then the Bombay Quadrangular. In the year 1892-93 it was awarded with the First Class status. 

First foreign team arrives at India 
In the year 1889-90 an English team arrived at India. The captain of this team was George Vernon, which eventually was the first foreign Cricket team to arrive India, although the matches that it played over here are not considered to be First Class Cricket matches. 

In the year 1892-93 two matches had been played between Europeans team and Parsees team at Bombay (now Mumbai) and Poona (now Pune). This is considered to be the regular beginning of First Class Cricket in the country. After this, four First Class matches were played between an English team led by Lord Hawke and an All India team between 26th and 28th of January 1893. 

The Bombay Presidency Saga 
Bombay Presidency Matches were played since 1892-93 till 1906-07. In the year 1907-08 the name of these matches was changed to Bombay Triangular Matches, which continued till the year 1911-12. Since the year 1912-13 the Matches came to be known as Bombay Quadrangular Matches, only to be changed again in the year 1937-38 into Bombay Pentangular Matches. 

Ranji Trophy 
Ranji Trophy was yet another leg of First Class Matches in Indian Cricket, which began in the year 1934-35 and still continues today. The Bombay team was the winner of first two Ranji Trophy championships. 

Indian Cricket team in international arena 
As far as the presence of Indian team in the international Cricket arena is concerned, the team played the MCC tour since October 1926 till February 1927. Within the tour, the Indian team played 26 First Class matches in India and 4 First Class Matches in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Captain of the team was Arthur Gilligan, which included Andy Sandham, Arthur Dolphin, Bob Wyatt, George Geary, Ewart Astill, George Brown and Maurice Leyland as the other players. 

The Indian team started playing Test Cricket in the English Season of the year 1932. The team played against the English team at Lord’s Cricket Ground. The English team defeated the Indian team in the match by 158 runs. 

Continuing its presence in the International Cricket arena, Maharaj Kumar of Vizianagaram (real name Lt. Col. Sir Vijayananda Gajapathi Raju) formed his own team of accomplished Cricket players including Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe. The team visited Ceylon and played some matches in India too during 1930-31. 

The Post Independence Era 
After gaining independence, India made its first ever Test Series victory against the arch rival Cricket team of Pakistan in the year 1952. The victory gave a great boost to the game in the nation, as some of the All Time Gems of the Indian Cricket showed their remarkable skills during this Test Series. These players included Vijay Manjarekar, S.M.Gupte and Polly Umrigar. 

1960’s 
Over the next decade of 1960’s the Indian Cricket team proved its strength upon the home ground as well as upon foreign pitches too. During this decade, the team defeated New Zealand and stretched the matches with teams such as England, Australia and Pakistan to a draw. 

1970’s 
During the decade of 1970’s, the Indian Cricket team got one of its most cherished possessions of all times – The Spin Quartet comprising of E.Prasanna, B.S.Chandrasekhar, Srinivas Venkataraghavan and Bishan Singh Bedi. Apart from them, the Indian Cricket team also got two of its most gifted Batsmen of all times during the decade of 1970’s itself – Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Vishwanath. 

1980’s 
The decade of 1980’s saw the Indian Cricket team scaling new heights in the One Day International (ODI) Cricket, and under the captainship of Kapil Dev, the team even managed to grab the 1983 Cricket World Cup. A number of accomplished players such as Kapil Dev, Madan Lal and Mahinder Amarnath made their presence felt during the decade. 

1990’s 
If there has to be taken one name for whom the 1990’s decade of Indian Cricket shall always be remembered, it would surely be none other than the same of Sachin Tendulkar. Still playing for team India and considered to be one of the All Time Greatests of the World Cricket, Sachin simply outclassed every other Batsman’s record, and the saga still lingers on. Apart from Sachin, some other wonderful Cricket players such as Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly and Javagal Srinath emerged in the Indian Cricket team in the decade of 1990’s, and paid their contribution in getting the Indian team clinching several international championships during the period. 

2000’s 
The Cricket team of India continued to show its brilliant performance in the new millennium, and the new youthful squad has seen some new faces and remarkable victories. The new talented players who joined the team include Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the new captain of the Indian Cricket team both in Test Cricket and One Day International (ODI) Cricket, S.Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, Suresh Raina, Gautam Gambhir, Irfan Pathan and Yousuf Pathan among others. Under the enthusiastic captainship of Dhoni, the new young team successfully won the first Twenty-20 Cricket World Cup held in the year 2007.

 

I have a mathematical and a cultural explanation for it. Both are valid at the same time, which makes it, oh, so very marvellously Indian because we are like Professor Erwin Schroedinger's renowned cat: we can be two things at the same time. For example, the DMK and the Congress who are daggers drawn and close allies; or Dr Manmohan Singh who is clean and not-clean simultaneously; or even, if you will, Anil Kumble, who was a fast slow bowler as well as a slow fast bowler.

 

NON-LINEARITY

The mathematical explanation, on which I have held forth many times before, is that it is the inherent non-linearity of the game that explains the Indian obsession with it.

This means that the final outcome cannot be predicted from the initial conditions and that anything, absolutely anything, can influence the final outcome. India beats West Indies (1983); Bangladesh beats India (2007); Ireland beats England (2011).

This is a consequence of the very large number of variables that influence the play, imparting a degree of uncertainty. The game's administrators have tried to control it but without notable success.

 

THE CULTURE THING

To get a hang of the cultural aspect, I would recommend an essay on the drivers of Indian behaviour by A.K. Ramanujan, the poet, not the mathematician. It first appeared in 1990 in a volume called India Through Hindu Categorieswhich was edited by McKim Marriott.

In that, Ramanujan explains how our conduct is context-sensitive, not context-free. As Krishna said to Arjuna, if the cause or context is right or righteous, you can even bump off your brothers.

This sort of context-sensitive behaviour led the Victorian missionaries to call us hypocrites. But a more sensible description is commonsensical behaviour — ironically, something the British excel at.

And when you come right down to it, cricket the most context-sensitive game in the world. And that is why we Indians love it, as Harry Belafonte sang in a lesser calypso, “Like a buffalo loves a pool of mud”.

 

In the context of today, it can be said that Cricket has become synonymous with the identity of being an Indian sports enthusiast. Such is the charisma of the game in the nation and so badly are the people influenced with the aura of Cricket-stars that their glory and fan following can easily put some Bollywood stars to shame. 

Initial days of Cricket in India 
It is said that initially Cricket found its origin in South East England, and further moved to British Colonies the world over. As India also was one of the British colonies, the game found its roots over here through the British Officers who brought it along to India as a favorite pastime. 

Although the national game of India is Hockey and the country has been a strong power in the game at world level for a long period, still over the period of time Hockey took the back seat and Cricket came to the forefront as far as popularity among the masses is concerned. The main reason behind this might be India’s strong presence in the arena of Cricket, and its gradually diminishing strength in world Hockey. 

The early maestros 
Right since the early days of Cricket in India, the country has produced a range of talented and accomplished Cricket players. These include Ranjit Singh Ji, Vijay Hazare, C.K.Nayadu, Polly Umrigar, Sunil Gavaskar etc. Of all these, probably Sunil Gavaskar was the first Cricket player who managed to accomplish the superstar status among the Cricket fans of the nation. 

The Kapil charisma 
After this, the Kapil Dev led squad of Indian Cricket accomplished a remarkable feat by winning the World Cup 1983, making the people of the country go literally crazy about the game. The new format viz. the Limited Over One Day Cricket became the newest passion for the young generation of the nation which didn’t like to wait the 5-day long Test Matches. The increased speed, excitement and thrill of the game worked wonders in terms of making more and more people addicted to the game, and India’s strong position in the game which consequently led it to more and more victories at the international level translated in firm growth of the game in the nation as a popular sport. 

Post Kapil era 
Even after this India continued to produce accomplished Cricket players like Mohd. Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar who constantly led India to more and more victories and trophies, but no team could repeat the charisma created by the Kapil Dev boys, as India still waits for its second World Cup Trophy. 

The Dhoni Effect 
Then a young boy from the state of Jharkhand with rock star-like looks and college boys-like attitude entered the scenario. The boy named Mahendra Singh Dhoni, popularly known as Mahi among the young crowd soon became the icon of Indian Cricket. Under the leadership of this talented batsman and captain, Indian Cricket team managed to win the first Twenty20 Cricket World Cup, which gave the already game a yet another boost among the sports freaks of the nation. 

The M.S. Dhoni led team has been said to be one of the most successful teams Indian Cricket had ever got, and has time and again proved its strength by winning many major international championships and trophies.

 

When I was in DELHI

 

Cricket, sure, is a game that requires a certain level of dedication, but not so much commitment that you don’t even attend your own engagement. Well, you’ve read it right. ONGC’s Sohail Sharma decided to skip his engagement ceremony in New Delhi and continued playing the final of the All India Public Sector T20 tournament here on Thursday.

The Delhi boy is apprehensive that his fiancee might give him a tough time later but was very supportive of his decision to play the final. “I discussed it with her before taking any decision and thankfully she was very supportive of it. And luckily so were my in-laws,” giggled Sharma, who ended up bagging the player-of-the-tournament award. “I knew my team needed me and I was in good form. And I just couldn’t leave the tournament midway,” said the 30-year-old.

So when is he now getting engaged? “Well, I’m getting married on March 19. So, that leaves me with no date. I guess we’ll exchange the rings right before the wedding.”

But as luck would have it, the groom-to-be missed his flight to the capital. “It’s like Murphy’s Law. Can you believe it? I missed my flight to Delhi. Now, I’m catching the later flight,” said Sharma from the airport. He added, “This just adds to my misery.”

With seven wickets and 300-odd runs in the tournament, Sharma hopes to be rewarded with an IPL contract.

“I have been playing well and I hope I get an IPL contract soon,” said the off-spinner. “But that’s for later on. Right now I rather focus on my marriage,” said Sharma.

Meanwhile, ONGC won the finalbeat

 

Like America in the '50s

There are elephants on the highway. There are elephant-sized metaphors shuffling alongside. This is a nation with a foot in both the past and present. India is at an end and a beginning. Over drinks in Delhi with my friends Candace and Lydia, we talk about this. Lydia is a correspondent for The New York Times and one of the world's experts on developing nations. Talking journalism with her is like talking cricket with Sachin. She cautions me to avoid trying to figure out what India is, or what it isn't, or to draw conclusions. "It leads you down all of these blind alleys," she tells me. "It defies all efforts to simplify."

She's right. I'm not sure what any of this means, or how cricket or Sachin fits into it, or even if he'll actually retire, but this is a critical time for the nation, just as it's a critical time for cricket. Their ambitions and threats are the same. Anyone who's here for even a few days can tell that.

India today seems a lot like America in the mid-50s.

White uniforms, long matches, breaks for high tea. Test Cricket is the original and most formal version of the game. True fans like it best. This photo is from a match during the 1970s featuring India and England in storied Lord's Cricket Ground.

This is largely a pre-ironic society. Yes, there is a rich history of satire, and modern exceptions -- the '50s also produced Jack Kerouac -- but the earnestness with which people love Sachin is reflected in many aspects of the culture. There's no place, yet, for an Indian "Daily Show." Elephants aren't for statues representing a bygone era, like the blue mustang outside Denver's airport. They are for the slow lane.

Movies are expected to end a certain way. Heroes in those movies are expected to behave a certain way. In his definitive book on Mumbai, "Maximum City," author Suketu Mehta describes an Indian audience's reaction when the hero of a film turned out to be a terrorist. They ransacked the theater. It does not seem strange to an Indian filmgoer that the songs in the movies have nothing to do with the plot. Mehta writes:

"The suspension of disbelief in India is prompt and generous, beginning before the audience enters the theater itself. Disbelief is easy to suspend in a land where belief is so rampant and vigorous. And not just in India; audiences in the Middle East, Russia and Central Asia are also pre-cynical. They still believe in motherhood, patriotism, and true love; Hollywood and the West have moved on."

Commercialism is a new mistress in sports. The Indian Premier League, which plays 20-over cricket, started three years ago. The creation of the IPL is India's Dodgers-leave-Brooklyn moment. Money is changing the sport. The change is seen by most as good. Any achievement by an Indian is good, something to be admired in the light. For many Indians, especially those who speak English and are trying to navigate the brave new world of economic revolution, the issue of identity is an important one. Excellence is tied up in that search. Indian writers are judged by the size of the advance, not the magic of their words. Indian artists are judged by the price fetched at auction, not the feelings they create in someone who stands before their canvas. Open the paper any random day to find an example. When famous Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai met Dustin Hoffman at a Lakers game, the tabloids report, she talked to him about "new market-tapping agendas and global trends." Not acting. Not his construction of Benjamin Braddock or Ted Kramer. They didn't talk craft. They talked money.

Over drinks, Lydia tells me one I hadn't seen. Indians are obsessed with the Guinness World Records book. Obsessed.

India still believes in the simple beauty of success.

Irony and cynicism come next.

"Irony requires a certain amount of self-confidence," Lydia says. "You have to have built enough of an identity to turn around and reject it, or to laugh at it. I think that's something that takes time."

The kids are all right

The kids see Deepchand and me walking down the street and furiously make preparations. One of them yells, "Wickets!" and they spring to action, setting up a stack of bricks. Our field is the only greenish space in the neighborhood, dirt, really, strewn with bits of trash. The kids introduce themselves. There's Sachin. He's quiet, with a wide smile and a laugh that comes out a chortle, rushed, almost as if it's surprised him. Another one, the most confident, tells me his name is Sunny. That's Sunil Gavaskar's nickname. He's 13. The brashest kid, the cockiest, is named Deepak.

I pull out the bat.

A neighborhood kid winds up and bowls to me. The first few, I deflect. Then I get into one, a full baseball-style turn, and wallop it over the crumbling brick fence at the end of the field. Six!

"Good knock!" one of the kids tells me.

When I pop out, Sachin bats next. He crushes a high-arcing drive that lands in the trash-strewn woods. The kids hunt in the mud for the ball. The day fills with laughter. The old women sitting in the shade of a tree watch the game. Deepchand and Sachin are playing cricket for the first time together in Delhi. They are happy, tossing the ball, dad bowling and son batting. The cab driver seems suddenly lighter.

"You're a kid again!" I yell at him across the field.

He throws back his head and laughs.

The boys fight over who'll bat next. They race back to the wicket. Sachin wins. They want me to bowl. The first time, instead of windmilling with my arm locked, I throw it like a baseball. That's a no-no. It's called chucking. I'm a chucker. Sunny explains.

"Full-arm action," he says. "Can I show you?"

He places my fingers along the seams. I wind up and clean bowl Deepchand. I've gotten him out. The kids give me high-fives. "Pretty good," Sunny says.

The game is no longer tedious. It's alive, inside me, in these children, even in the women grinning at us from beneath the tree. I look down at the end of the field and catch Sachin staring at his new Sachin signature bat, showing it off to his friends.

The kids decide we should play a game -- five overs, two teams of four. Sachin and I go first. One player stands at each edge of the makeshift wicket. To score a run, each runner has to make it safely to the other end. The farther the hit, the more times we can complete the circuit.

I put my notebook down. The sky is blue. The sun pans across my face, warming the afternoon. The boys are happy. Deepchand is happy. I am happy, too, playing with the neighborhood kids, although when I am bowled, when I'm out, I feel like I've let a 10-year-old down. Cricket, like most team sports, is a personal game but also one of intense connection. It is both individual and communal. I'm left to watch. Sachin crushes it, six after six. Sunny kills it, too, spraying the ball around the makeshift field, over the fence. We finish with 49 runs. That's the target.

The next team scores fast, too. Deepak is a beast. He's barrel-chested. He hits a booming six, and when the ball is finally found, he hits another. He hits a third one, high into the air, which will come down in the trees and in the trash, a ball that will never be found, ending our match in a draw. He watches it sail into the Delhi sky, and he poses.

"I am Sehwag!" he says.