To anyone who doesn’t come from India and understands enough about the sport of cricket, it might seem a little odd that the country loves the sport of cricket so much. Cricket has taken off to a degree where the country’s superstars are treated as deities and around 400 million people will gather to watch India on television for every test match.
For a country with the infrastructure, population numbers and financial disparity, how did a sport that requires not only space, but time and the correct cricket equipment in order to play correctly, become the number one pastime, thought about more than love and sex combined for many millions of Indians?
Over the past few decades the Indian national test side has become a consistent staple at the top table of international cricket, but that hasn’t always been the case, and therefore there isn’t an argument to say that the sport is only so popular due to early victories against more highly skilled nations and the momentum that that can garner. Equally, although it has become a popular sport for all Indians, from different castes and backgrounds, it wasn’t just a sport spread by the ruling British elite in the 19th century as a way of anglicising the large country through sport.
Of course, the British colonial rule did bring the sport of cricket to the sub-continent for the first time, but it was the Indian elite who first started to play independently of their British rulers, as a way of impressing the British. Those in power have always looked upon cricket favourably, but it was quickly a popular sport for viewers and players in all corners of the country. Huge crowds would turn up to watch local teams play against the British rulers, and with the growth in industry and the organisation of large workforces, it became a popular pastime during downtime from the factories.
In modern times technology has changed everything of course. With 167 million households now officially owning television sets in India, cricket has become a sport for the masses. As it was locally the sport that the majority of everyday Indians, as well as the elite, would choose to watch, as the television audience has grown, so too has the fan-base.
The population of cricket fans covers all bases and it is unlike the game in any other country on the planet, where it can still be seen as a game for the privileged few, or a sport that has to battle with multiple other sporting events for space on the back page of newspapers and for segments on television programmes. In India, cricket is everything and it is this love of the game that has driven the sport towards its open arms, with the Indian Premier League attracted the stars of cricket the world over, as well as huge sponsorship and television contracts. The sport is only going to continue to grow in the near future, whether in 20/20 format, one-day or the full 5-day test cricket arena.