Cricket has been the most popular sport in India for decades and it has demonstrated an ability to transcend all levels of society.In terms of fervour and fanaticism when it comes to supporting India as well, it is hard to think of a more vociferous crowd and atmosphere in international cricket. Eden Gardens in Kolkata is one of the most famous cricket venues in the world, but you are guaranteed an electric buzz wherever you go.
It is not uncommon for 400 million people to watch the Indian cricket team on television whenever there is a big match and that gives you an indication of the sport’s tremendous popularity. Football may be rising in terms of popularity with spectators, especially due to the changes in how sport is watched on different media, but it is going to take a long time before the Indian football team is on a par with their cricket contemporaries, in terms of either quality or success.
India has been able to celebrate success on the international stage. In 1983, India won the Cricket World Cup and followed that up by winning the 2011 final against Sri Lanka in Mumbai. India also won the ICC World Twenty20 tournament in 2007.
Certainly, it is the one-day game which has seen India excel on a more consistent basis, and it is perhaps based on how the style of Indian cricketers has developed over the past 40 years.
In the 1970s, India had 40 years of Test experience behind them, and were starting to perform consistently well against other nations such as Australia, England and West Indies. Much of their success was via opening batsman Sunil Gavaskar and a spin bowling quartet which featured Bishen Bedi, EAS Prasanna, Srinivas Venkataragharan and BS Chandrasekar.
Gavaskar was a tremendously accomplished batsman and he held the record for most centuries in Test cricket before his total was surpassed by compatriot Sachin Tendulkar. Yet, for all Gavaskar’s undeniable brilliance at making runs and building up scores, his style was not suited to the one-day game. You only have to look at his 36 not out at the 1975 World Cup for an example of that when he stayed at the crease for all 60 overs against England.
There was a definite shift in mentality in the 1980s, through the likes of Mohammed Azharuddin and Ravi Shastri, along with the captain and all-rounder Kapil Dev. The more attacking, swashbuckling approach led to India becoming one of the most entertaining teams in the Test arena and only served to increase the enthusiasm and appetite for cricket in the country.
It has always tended to be the case, especially in more recent years, that batsmen rather than bowlers are afforded hero-like status in Indian cricket, none more so than Sachin Tendulkar. ‘The Little Master’ spent over 20 years bestriding Test cricket to become the highest run scorer in history. As an indication of the regard he is held in by his fellow Indians, he was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 2014 following his retirement from the game. That is the highest civilian honour which can be awarded in India. But it was not just the way Tendulkar played the game which made him such a popular figure, it was also the way he conducted himself that ensured he was almost universally loved and revered by his compatriots.
The current equivalent of Tendulkar in the Indian team is Virat Kohli, who has not long since succeeded MS Dhoni as captain. Kohli is regarded as the most popular cricketer in the world due to the number of Facebook likes he gets and the number of Twitter followers he has. Again, this is another indication of the popularity of cricket in India, and the cricketers who represent the country. As a batsman, Kohli fits the style of those who have gone before him over the past 20 years or more.
Wow that was a quick ride to 5 million! Great start for the new year. Thank you all for making it possible 🙂 pic.twitter.com/Vr2iDabrCA
— Virat Kohli (@imVkohli) January 2, 2015
The other major example of the popularity of cricket in India comes in the form of the Indian Premier League. As domestic Twenty20 tournaments go, there is no serious rival to the Indian Premier League. There is entertainment on offer in the Big Bash in Australia, while the equivalent Twenty20 tournament in England lacks both the star quality and entertainment factor which is delivered by the IPL.
Of course, the amount of money which is invested in the players participating in the IPL makes it an attractive competition to play in. When you have the likes of AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum and Kevin Pietersen involved, you can be confident of delivering a tournament which will capture the imagination of the fans as those players complement the home-grown stars of Indian cricket.
You only have to look at the huge television deals for the IPL to be aware of just how popular the sport is in India. Sony paid $1billion (£645million) for a 10-year deal for the broadcasting rights. With such money flowing into the IPL, it is no wonder that the game’s biggest names can be tempted to play in the competition, in a way that is just not possible in England, for example.
The strong overseas flavour to the IPL doesn’t detract from the fervent way in which the local teams are supported. There are big crowds at each game and an atmosphere which wouldn’t look out of place when the Indian team are playing. The noise level rises even further when you get towards the end of a game. The mix of quality cricket, along with the off-the-field entertainment, has ensured the IPL is one of the most watchable competitions in world sport.
Allied to the popularity of cricket is the popularity of betting on cricket. As cricket itself has grown and expanded, so have the markets on which you can bet in the sport.
No longer is it just the case that you can bet on which team is going to win the match. Whether it is Test or One-Day cricket, there is an incredibly diverse range of bets you can place. These can vary from which team will win the toss, who will be the highest run scorer for each team, how will the next wicket be taken, how many runs will be scored in the first over, the list is seemingly endless. The speed at which cricket is played also makes it an ideal sport for betting in-running as you have a little bit of time to consider your bets in between deliveries.
For the time being, cricket’s popularity in India shows no significant signs of being on the wane, even with the challenge which is coming from football. When you can play cricket on a reasonably sized strip of land, and just require a bat and ball, it will always be a fertile breeding ground for future Indian talent.
The status afforded to India’s leading cricketers also provides youngsters with an ambition which can be achieved, regardless of background, providing you work hard and have the talent. With cricket capable of teaching children patience, a valuable virtue, it is no wonder that the sport has always been so popular. Now that there are good financial rewards to be had as well, it is going to take a seismic shift for cricket to be deposed as India’s number one sport.