The Indian spirit and cricketers
COMMUNITY: Last week I wrote about the Bangladeshi minnows eating
the Indian shark.
This caused anxiety to a majority of the Indian business community,
especially those who had invested in the World Cup by buying Radio and
TV time for millions of dollars to advertise and sell their products.
Sri Lanka made it worse for them by defeating the Indians and
knocking them clean out of the tournament.
Indiaâ€™s exit killed the commercial attraction and many Indian
Entrepreneurs, who had made bookings in advance to travel to the
Caribbean to watch India play in the â€˜Super 8â€™ and beyond cancelled
their bookings as if the Caribbean islands had been hit by a tsunami.
In India and Pakistan and to some extent Bangladesh, cricketers are
only second to Bollywood heroes. But, unlike the celluloid heroes, the
Indians and the Pakistanis forget that their cricketers are real men of
flesh and blood.
The Indians make their cricketers virtual Gods. Of the pantheon of
Gods, some cricketers are believed to have divine powers or inspired by
Gods. Some are superstitious and believe that the Cricketers can perform
Like in the epics of the Mahabharatha and the Ramayana, the good must
overpower and vanquish evil, like the mythical Rama avenging the
kidnapping of Sita by Rawana of Sri Lanka.
For the Indians, there is no good God than the Indian Cricketer and
those of other countries represent the evil forces. Therefore, the
Indian cricketers cannot lose as the Indian people have never known of
their mythical Gods losing in any battle.
But under these trying circumstances, where the houses of cricketers
are attacked, there may lie a positive strain in the Indian people which
we ought to think about and understand.
The average Indian is poorer than the average Sri Lankan or
Pakistani. They do not know from where the next meal would come.
Thousands sleep on the pavements or under culverts and in concrete Hume
pipes due to lack of shelter.
There is degradation and poverty all over. But poverty, in its most
intense form, cannot take away the spirit of the average Indian.
They would forego several meals to save a few rupees to see a film on
the day it is released and they queue up in the thousands outside cinema
In Sri Lanka, before the advent of TV, the situation was the somewhat
similar. I have seen hundreds of people outside cinema halls waiting to
see films like Sujatha, Sada Sulang and Mathalang.
But today very few people go to the cinemas where Sinhala films are
screened. People are glued to their TV sets at home. The whole concept
of going to the cinema has become alien to us.
There are more TV channels in India than the whole of South Asia, but
that does not deter the Indian people from going to the cinema hall to
see their heroes and heroines.
For them the cinema hall, the giant screen and their hero, who can
stop a moving train with his bare hands and save an infant being crushed
by the train are things to be perceived on larger than life giant
The whistling and the applause of the audience is not found at home.
There is an atmosphere which is electric within the confines of the
Add to this, there are Dolby and DTS sound systems which makes it an
exhilarating experience satisfying their mindset. The Indian formula of
romance, music, dance, songs and villains will not be erased from the
Indian peopleâ€™s mind for at least another decade.
But, the same could not be said of their Sri Lankan counterparts.
Cinema and musical shows and others forms of entertainment have gripped
the Indian nation for the last four decades.
Today it has become an uphill task to draw the Sri Lankan crowds away
from the TV sitcoms to the cinema hall. It is not because it is
expensive and TV is free. There is something in the attitude of the
Indians that is different to that of Sri Lankans.
We have film stars amongst us. They can freely walk the streets. Some
of them are not even recognized. Only a few recognize and smile with
them. But Bollywood heroes can never imagine leading a normal life, even
walking or driving.
They will be stripped naked by their fans, who will remove even a
button from their clothing to keep as a souvenir of their super idol.
Likewise next to the film stars, in their order of popularity, are their
British conquerors, who introduced the game to the Indians, would
never have dreamt that it would hold such a grip on the Indian
population. When the game of cricket was first played in England, the
English people had lot of leisure and time at their disposal.
There was no rat race and industrialisation had just started. It was
a colonial power and the gentlemen had slaves, maids and children to
attend to their daily chores.
When the English introduced cricket to the sub-continent, the Indians
had more time at their disposal and it was ideally suited to their
temperament and culture. Most of them were poor and had no means of
livelihood and were free to watch a test match for six days.
Gradually, the Indians were able to produce players who could match
those of the British Raj. This was the only way in which the Indians
could teach a lesson to their Colonial masters. The Indians could not
fight them though they outnumbered the English, whose superior firepower
was sufficient to keep millions of Indians at bay.
The Eden Gardens Cricket Ground was packed with 125,000 spectators
every day for a test match. Hundreds of Indians waited outside the
grounds just doing nothing. If they got a glimpse of a cricketer, they
cheered widely as if they perceived a God who had manifested himself in
the form of a man.
Even in Calcutta, one of the poorest cities in the world, where the
citizens did not have even the basic amenities such as water and there
were hundreds or thousands in hunger, waiting for some person to throw a
few crumbs of food to pounce upon like cats and dogs, still these
conditions, in which they lived for centuries, would not dampen or
diminish their love for the cinema or cricket.
The managers of Cricket in Australia and other countries in the West
found it extremely difficult to compete with soccer and basketball. The
commercial value of these games was far greater than for cricket.
These players were richer and mightier than cricketers. So, the
advent of the cowboy game, with coloured clothing, white balls and other
paraphernalia, where a result could be obtained within a day, made such
an impact on the conventional idealist, who phoo-phooed this idea of
Kerry Packer, the gambler and visionary.
Packer knew if one had to preserve the glory of test cricket which
was a connoisseursâ€™ delight, it should deviate from its rigid rules and
be able to compete with soccer, rugby and basketball.
Today everyone is glued to the TV set because of the shortened
version of the game. The Indians are rapidly industrializing. Unlike
agricultural economy, the industrialized economy made it difficult to
watch matches for six days.
Test cricket was fading away even in India when people became more
prosperous. With the advent of the one-day game, all the thrills of a
six-day test match was encapsulated into a day.
The crowds, who thronged the cinema halls to witness the Bachchans
Amir Khans and now Sharukh Khan bashing the villain and rescuing the
heroine, could see Sachin Tendulkar within a short period of 100 balls
scoring 100 runs.
All sorts of permutations and combinations were being introduced to
make the game even more interesting and enchanting.
In Sri Lanka cricket is the most popular game, but even for a one-day
match, played on a week day, there were less people at the stadium. In
India a word against Sachin Tendulkar is sufficient for someone to be
identified as a traitor.
But in Sri Lanka, a sparse crowd witnessed Pakistan play Sri Lanka at
the Premadasa Stadium. There were more Muslim brethren, in the far
corner of the Stadium, cheering the Pakistan team and booing at the Sri
Lankans without anybody even trying to teach them a lesson in
patriotism. If this happened in India there would be a Hindu-Muslim
clash and houses would have been burnt.
The public themselves built their own idealistic, imaginary world of
Indian cricket. Today, the commercialisation of Indian cricket and
selling of images of Indian cricketers is a millions dollar industry.
This is a breathtaking new phenomenon. To my mind, there is not a
single sportsman in the whole world who can compare with the Indiansâ€™
adulation for Sachin Tendulkar.
Just before the World Cup, I saw the great young hero of Indian
cricket Mahendra Singh Dhoni walking to keep his appointment with the
hair dresser. He was walking because he could not travel by car as
hundreds of people filled the streets and the adjacent buildings.
It was an unbelievable sight. TV cameras followed Dhoni, showing it
live to the entire country. But in Sri Lanka, Sanath Jayasuriya can walk
anywhere without being mobbed by a crowd.
Today we find it difficult to draw a crowd of more than 1,000
spectators for a test match, as people prefer to watch matches on TV.
This even embarrassed Sri Lanka Cricket and they issued free tickets
to school children to watch matches. Even the limited overs cricket
carnivals, in Dambulla and Galle, draws bigger crowds than Colombo. This
is the difference between India and Sri Lanka.
The Indian fans sleep on the pavement, go without food, collect some
money and go to the stadium to see their heroes bashing the ball and
they feel good. But when they fail they feel bad.
This is why we do not burn the effigies or stone the houses of our
cricketers when they fail. We have better things to do. But in India it
is different. If India loses they feel that they have been conquered by
That is why I believe that the spirit and the love towards their
cricketers and Bollywood heroes are so great. This, to my mind, is a
positive trend. Poverty and deprivation cannot diminish the Indian
We are stagnating and devoid of any spirit. When Indians are becoming
IT giants and challenging China to become the industrial giant in the
world, there is something in the Indian people which is positive in
spirit and which is moving them to achieve their goals.
When we won against India and threw them out of the World Cup, the
commentators said that Sri Lankans must be celebrating till morning and
there would be crackers. We know the truth. We were sleeping after the
victory. I did not hear a single cracker.
There was no such sense of joy spilling on to the streets. Even when
we won the World Cup, I was disappointed with the crowds that thronged
to meet the cricketers. With all the hype was there a national reaction
to the cricketers to compensate the greatest victory they had brought to
In the plane which carried the players the politicians and the
spectators back home, the politicians took the business class seats and
the cricketers had to struggle to find seats. The crowd in the plane
booed at the politicians until saner counsel prevailed and they gave the
seats to the cricketers.
Kapil Dev became a millionaire by the fact that he won the coveted
World Cup for India and he is one of the most venerated human beings in
But our own Arjuna Ranatunga could not even get his club SSC to vote
for him when he contested to become the President of Sri Lanka Cricket.
When the Australians won the World Cup in 2003, millions of Australians
poured into the streets of Melbourne and Sydney to welcome their heroes.
It was a magnificent sight.
But here, there are bigger crowds to watch the superstars singing,
than to see our national heroes, who brought the World Cup and the hero
of our times Sanath Jayasuriya, who was the player of the tournament.
This is the difference. When the Indians misbehave as when it happened
at Eden Gardens in Calcutta, there were rumors of match fixing. The
Indians do not like their super heroes and gods to take bribes.
Very soon Bombay will replace England as the Mecca of Cricket. The
Indian films are one of the biggest foreign exchange earners. But we
could careless whether we win the World Cup or not. We have become
nation devoid of spirit and enthusiasm.