Five Reasons why cricket is so popular in India
“Cricket, like India, had long intrigued me from afar. It seemed so mysterious: a game with strange rules, and stranger vocabulary, one that can last for days, captivating billions but meriting only an inch or two in the papers at home.”
That was how American journalist Wright Thompson described his fascination for Indian cricket in his famous essay 'In Tendulkar Country' written during his trip to India for the 2011 World Cup.
The game continues to enjoy an outsized following in the country and many believe it will remain India's most popular sport for many years to come. However, the questions remain as to how this aristocratic English game become such a popular sport in India. Here are 5 plausible reasons.
#5 Royal patronage
At the time when the British ruled India, the kings in most parts of the country had good reason to be wary of the rulers and one of the best ways to ingratiate themselves with the establishment was not only by paying taxes but also by adopting their customs.
Cricket became one of the favourite pastimes of Indian royalty like how Eton and Oxford became the places to go as far as education was concerned. Due to royal patronage, the game soon spread among the populace and it is not really a wonder that even before India actually had a cricket team, the game had a base to work from since it had been made commonplace by the many royal families.
Otherwise, there was absolutely no reason for the game to flourish in India.
#4 The very nature of the game
Indians have always been fascinated with epics. The Mahabharat and Ramayan are read by people of all religions and both became runaway successes when they were turned into TV shows. More importantly, those two epics are deeply embedded into the psyche of a vast majority of Indians.
A cricket Test match, with its timelessness, leisurely pace and the option of a middle path (the draw) might have been some of the reasons why so many people in India took to the game so enthusiastically. A tightly-contested game of cricket is often called an epic.
India did not have a competitive Test team for a long time but the popularity of the game remained high and that is probably down to the fact that in the early years, Indian fans followed the game for the unique features that the game had to offer.
#3 Emergence of superstars
Since their very first Test in England in 1932, it took India 39 years to win a Test series in that same country but prior to that, they had won a series in the West Indies. That period saw the emergence of India's first truly great batsman, Sunil Gavaskar, who showed that Indian opening batsmen could stand up to fast bowlers on foreign shores.
The game's popularity soared after that as more superstars emerged but it exploded to another level post the rise of Sachin Tendulkar and live TV coverage. The cricket-watching public became particularly enamoured with one-day internationals and as India featured in more and more of those matches, the popularity of the game knew no bounds.
#2 The World Cup victories
A sport cannot sustain its popularity if the national team does not achieve something significant for a long time and in the case of Indian cricket, the great moment came in 1983.
Kapil Dev's unheralded team won a thrilling final against the overwhelming favourites West Indies to bring home the World Cup and with that, cricket became India's number 1 sport. The triumph in the Benson & Hedges World Championship of Cricket followed two years later and Indian cricket never looked back. Cricket was the game that captured the imagination of Indian sports fans like never before and the 2007 T20 World Cup and 2011 World Cup wins further strengthened the game's status as the nation's most popular sport.
#1 T20 and the IPL
India might have first become infatuated with the game when it was played in one format and later on, in two formats, however the latest and shortest version of the game has turned cricket into the unofficial national game.
As everyone is probably aware by now, the BCCI had no inclination to be part of the World T20 back in 2007, but after India's triumph in the tournament, thing's changed and the very next year, the IPL was launched.
Cricket in India was never the same again, as the world's best cricketers became a part of the league and the country became the default capital of world cricket.
IPL matches are almost always played in front of full houses and they have made cricket the most-watched game in the country. The TV and digital rights for the next five years of the tournament went to Star India for a whopping $2.5 billion, making it the biggest deal in cricket history and that probably is the biggest proof of how the IPL soared the popularity of cricket in the country to stratospheric levels.