Posted by: Vikram | June 26, 2009

Why Cricket ? Blame/Praise the television

Playing football rather than reciting the Gita will take one near to God

– Swami Vivekanand

There is little evidence to show that soccer or hockey were any less popular than cricket in India until the early 80s. In fact, India achieved early successes in hockey and soccer that led Anthony de Mello, one of the founders of the BCCI to declare,

Heightened by our hockey success at Amsterdam, our ambitions for Indian sport know no bounds just then. We visualized our cricketers playing at the Oval, at Lord’s ….

In his paper, Batting for the flag: cricket, television and globalization in India, Nalin Mehta of the La Trobe University explains how the popularity of cricket in India is not the product of some

peculiar Indian affiliation for the game, but inextricably linked with the expansion of Indian television and a confluence of other factors: the creation of a large middle class, economic reforms, the politics of identity, the birth of the satellite television industry and broader trends in globalization.

Indeed it should surprise an objective observer that cricket is this popular in India. Simple economics do not encourage the playing of the sport. Considerable investments are required to start even a simple game, although as with many other things Indians have adapted the game to their environment.

Cricket has becoming an almost inextricable part of urban, middle-class India’s identity. Expatriates now run extensive cricket leagues even in America, where the game is almost unheard of. It has become part of the consumption triangle of middle India along with Bollywood and Western pop culture. It remains a fact that India’s successes even in a relatively (in global terms) non-popular sport like cricket, have been few and far between, with the team having losing records against most competitors even though its population dwarfs that of any other cricket playing country. So why is middle India hooked to cricket ?

Mehta argues that,

in a land divided at multifarious levels by factors such as language, caste and custom, the unrelenting drive to construct and capture a national market for maximizing profits has led television producers and advertisers to turn to cricket as the lowest common denominator.

Indeed, the expansion of cricket was driven by compelling economic reasons and enabling technological advances like the,

launch of INSAT-1A and later INSAT-1B, allowed the creation of what became known as the National Programme which was envisaged as a tool for uniting people

And the administrators of cricket capitalized on this tool and success in the 1983 World Cup to popularize the game and in turn make it an indispensable tool for the advertisers who needed a medium and brand ambassadors to communicate with the emerging middle classes. Why did hockey and soccer not succeed ? Sadly the,

decline in hockey standards began to turn spectators away at a time when television was providing opportunities for building an entirely new support base.

As for soccer, the decline ironically started after the broadcast of the 1982 Soccer World Cup as the fans in Bengal and Kerala suddenly became aware of,

the gap between their own local heroes and the great international stars

In contrast, the rise of Indian television coincided with some of India’s greatest cricketing achievements, and the cricket team conveniently became an easy release for the aspirational nationalism of middle class Indians. No one can deny the excitement and passions cricket can arouse among Indians. But the question is, is it worth the cost to other sports ? Especially those like hockey and soccer that were once integral to the ‘Indian’ identity,

the victory would fill every Indian with joy and pride to know that rice-eating, malaria-ridden, bare-footed Bengalis have got the better of beef-eating, Herculean, booted John Bull in that peculiarly English sport.

– The newspaper Nayak after the victory of Mohun Bagan over British East York Regiment in 1911 soccer game


  1. Last night as I was walking home I noticed two young lads playing soccer with a broken piece of thermocol. In that moment they were happy and excited, enjoying themselves. So I realised how little it takes to play soccer even though they nearly got run over by a car (the streets are usually empty at that time of the night) they did not seem to mind it. I think football is the game we need to really develop at the school level next.

  2. I will give the credit or blame the BCCI.If we had another set up to promote football or any other sport-that sport would have also reached the same heights.It is all about money.Cricketers are making money,BCCI i sminting money,TV channels are speaking money.
    Let us create a football club.

  3. Although I haven’t read Mehta’s article, from the excerpts you’ve presented, I feel his linking of the popularity of cricket with television and the rise of India’s globalized middle class is simplistic at best, and at worst, lazy scholarship.

    And his reason for the decline in football’s popularity, that Mallus and Bongs suddenly got an inferiority complex from watching Maradona on TV is, you have to admit, somewhat ridiculous.

    Have you read Ram Guha’s ‘A Corner of a Foreign Feild’, btw? I feel he does a fantastic job providing a nuanced answer as to why cricket occupies the hallowed place it does in the hearts of South Asians everywhere, whether they be in the posh drawing rooms of South Delhi or in a hamlet in Wayanad, Kerala. And it’s much more than just Neoliberal policies+ Rising Middle Class Aspirations+ Rupert Murdoch= Cricket (the equation maybe explains the popularity of IPL, but not why every single Indian remembers exactly where they were the night Sachin took on the Aussies in Sharjah all those years ago 🙂 ).

    • Co incidences cannot be directly made the parameter of rise and fall of Indian cricket. Yes 50 over format introduction with win in 1983 WC and rise of television are mutually related. But there was fall in standard of hockey and football with time while cricket was on rise in 1970’s. In cricket arena, Indians were quite influenced by anglo-saxon culture post independence. True face of Indian patriotism was suppressed by white race domination feeling. Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev start the process of reversing it and with each win of India, a sense of pride and representation on international arena comes in upcoming India.

      bQ, I have not read Guha’s book but Nalin’s perception is not deep analysis but only reflection of change.

  4. Vikram, any thing which has unidimensional makes the thing monotonous.Television is not interacive medium of learning hence the flow of information is regulated by few guys running for bussiness.Cricket and Movies unite us as they are source of mass consumption to India. And the point of “the gap between their own local heroes and the great international stars” is absurd.

    Vikram, one thing more ; I don’t know why but I find this article is some incomplete in conclusion part…

    • Yes, and I see the same phenomenon in America, where sport is a big industry and drives consumption. One evidence for this is the huge disparity between the popularity of men’s and women’s sports teams here, and the anonymity that the Indian women’s cricket team has to endure.

      This article is the first in a three part series, hence the incompleteness …

      • ok. Vikram, sorry for confusion.Waiting for more on this topic.

  5. Vikram Check the Speech addressed by Professor Yash Pal,Chancellor, Jawaharlal Nehru University at Indian academy of social sciences October 5, 2007.

  6. @ Odzer: It is interesting to note what seems to be soccer’s ‘resurgence’ in urban India. In many it seems to be driven by the forces of globalization and its popularity seems to be growing more due to the broadcast of foreign leagues rather than domestic success.

    But I think coming up in soccer will be a difficult task for India, at the international level it is a much more competitive sport than cricket. Also, India’s geographical location means that we are usually playing teams like Nepal and Cambodia who are struggling themselves.

    @ Chawla saab, indeed hockey and soccer have been utterly mismanaged in India. In an upcoming post, I will talk about just how badly Indian hockey has been mauled by its ‘administrators’.

    @ bq, I havent read Guha’s book. But I dont think one can discount the role of TV in popularizing sport. I totally agree that Mehta does not present a complete analysis, but one cant deny that he does bring up important points regarding the need for a homogenous marketig medium and the gap in middle class Indian national identity that the game filled.

    Also, he says that the broadcast of the football world cup made fans aware of the gap between local and international stars, he does not claim that this is the reason for soccer’s decline. I think what he is trying to point out there is how the game was not able to fulfill the nationalist aspirations of the Indian middle class due to the lack of a competitive international team.

    And in recent years with cricket satisfying the nationalist aspirations combined with the broadcast of European club soccer, young urban Indians feel more comfortable about cheering for soccer clubs like FC Barcelona and Manchester United.

  7. Vikram,i had written one post SPORTY POLITICIANS in my blog.It is the sports being taken over by the politicians is the main culprit.BCCI was headed by an industrialist before Pawar too over and he should be credited.Rest all sports are messed up

  8. Vikram BQ has already mentioned the read it is a brilliant book in terms of trying to understand the history (and the mentality that led to this sport being picked up so whole heartedly by Indians.

  9. […] See the rest here: Why Cricket ? Blame/Praise the television […]

  10. […] In this blog post, a writer from India suggests that successes in cricket and failures in soccer occurred at a […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: