The Story of Modern India is Painted by Indian Cricket History
The Bombay Gymkhana (stadium) located in southern Mumbai just next to the Aazad maidan was founded in 1875 as a British-only sports club. Later on, it was opened to non-British as well, who could enter the club and play cricket too, however, only within their designated area. It took some time and some political changes to establish teams playing against each other. During this time since the whole concept of ‘Indian-ness’ was blurry, the teams were divided by religions (Hindus, Muslims, and Christians – the British).
Cricket was a ‘white’ sport and in many respects, it represented English dominance over the Indian subcontinent. But in 1926, a rebel entered the Bombay Gymkhana, someone that we are sure Bob Marley would have loved if he had known him. His name was Colonel C.K Nayudu and he played for the Maharaja of Holkar who nominated him to be the captain of the team. The Holkar’s team came to the Bombay Gymkhana to play against the MCC team (Marylebone Cricket Club), the branded elite club of British Lords. It was written all over the game in big capital English letters you simply don’t have a chance to beat us!! Haven’t we proved already western superiority mentally and physically?
Without getting into the political circumstances at that time, let us just say that this was a point where the struggle for independence from British rule was all over India and had reached its boiling point. Leaders such as Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo, M.S Golwalkar, Lala Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Tal, also Muslims such as Muhamad Ali Jinnah and many others were trying to prove their eligibility for freedom, with each having his agenda. Above all, the questions of what is India? And who are Indians? were issues at the center of all political issues. The British rule knew perfectly how to gain political power and to manipulate Indian society by dividing and highlighting the differences of various communities. Mahatma Gandhi frustrated from the cricket team division to religions said, “Can we not have one field in life which is untouched by communal spirit?”
This game at that time was a tiny event but extremely symbolic with high implications. You can only imagine how shocked the MCC team was when they were beaten by Colonel C.K Nayudu. He scored 153 in less than two hours, hitting 11 sixes in that game.
That was a victory that made a difference! That was a game that for the first time made Indians believe it possible to win and to feel equal maybe not by law (at that time) but as human beings.
After independence, the same old questions preoccupied the mind of Jawaharlal Nehru – India’s first Prime Minister. He wondered about the nature of India and was looking for means to unite the broken pieces after partition, where a huge minority of Muslims remained uncomfortable within India. Once again cricket had a big role. This time it was Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi (also known as Tiger) who was the captain of the Indian national team, the son of a royal Muslim family. He was incredible for the results of the matches he played, as well as for making it easier for the entire team to play as a unit. Suddenly, cricket was a crucial part of “New India” that could win regardless of religion. Pataudi made the first leap over the traumatic partition and the conflicts held between Hindu and Muslims for such a long time. Pataudi was a bridge between Hindus and Muslims not only on the pitch but also in his personal life, where he married the Hindu Bollywood star Sharmila Tagore (Rabindranath Tagore’s niece).
Another great batsman in Indian cricket history or another god in the Indian pantheon was Sunil Gavaskar. In 1971, when he was 22, India won for the first time on English soil (can you imagine that??!!). He came from the Bombay School of batting. Gavaskar, the little man was a hell of a batsman and stood up against the fastest and the meanest ballers in the world. He scored more than 10,000 test runs!!! That was his legacy to Indian cricket. He set up a target for all future generations to match his score to follow his techniques. Now with the Sunil Gavaskar factor, India was one step closer to becoming a world cricket empire.
Moments of Fulfillment
Another fundamental brick in Indian cricket was Kapil Dev who was like Indira the Vedic God throwing thunder balls. The Chandigarh boy was the captain of the team and the key factor to India winning its first Cricket World Cup. Indian PM Indira Gandhi said before the game: We can do it! A slogan that immediately became a national motto…and you thought that Obama’s “Yes we can” was original, ha?! That’s it, the 1983 World Cup win redefined India in many senses. The boys came back to India from the West Indies as kings of the land. Thousands of people were waiting to welcome the team – it was a festival. This win expressed something so crucial for Indian people, to prove themselves. It was far more than words and something that could only be demonstrated by the right thing to do on the cricket pitch.
Small Screen, Huge Money…
Television telecasts in general and the arrival of satellite television took cricket to the smallest and remotest corners of India. People could watch a cricket match from all over the world 24/7, and children started to learn cricket from the small screen. Think about it, millions of small Indian children imitating the moves of cricketers. After a bit of practice they had at home or at the Chai shop or wherever TV was available, they grabbed a bat. Satellite TV was the point cricket was officially out of the big cities exclusivity- it was then, out in the open….
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Cricketers become national heroes they have become a Gharwale (part of the family) in every home in India. Companies started to sign them up for huge commercial contracts. India as a nation went through major changes in the eighties. India started to switch her look towards western economic models and gradually leave the eastern (socialist) principles. These changes reflected immediately in cricket. Big money started to flow all over to the pockets of players, businessmen, bookies, etc.
It was time now to move into a new era, a shiny era into the Tendulkar era! A fast mover, confident in nature, capable of doing everything on the pitch, this was the ultimate cricketer. Sachin Tendulkar is still considered to be one of the best batsmen in the history of the game. This is not the place to cover Sachin Tendulkar’s records because we simply won’t get out of it… what we will say is that Sachin Tendulkar’s effect on Indian cricket gave a serious boost to the sport.
India was ready now to the Fast n’ furious era – IPL ( Indian Primer League)
That came up with the 1-day game concept– festival for the fans, the concept plays perfectly with the fast pace Indian nature embedded in the common jaldi jaldi ( faster-faster ) Hindi expression. The Fast n’ Furious era made the Josh (enthusiasm) around cricket even bigger.
Indian premier league IPL (2008) the greatest turning point with 500,000,000 pounds investment. It is the place where Bollywood charisma got all over cricket. Cheerleaders in short skirts, Bollywood soundtracks of the latest movies in the background…all of this meant some crazy audience cheering. IPL is a premium cricket product. City teams on the shelves for an auction. BIG money came in – Pure Festival for investors. If your pocket is deep enough you could easily get yourself a team. Shah Rukh Khan, for example, the Mega Bollywood star got himself Kolkata Knight Riders (which won the 2012 edition of the IPL).
Some of the old generation cricketers folks find this new format of cricket kind of vulgar but 3 hours of celebration is what we are talking about when we say Tamasha so the IPL is the Maha tamasha ( the biggest entertainment possible). An electric atmosphere where the fans go completely crazy!!!! This is primetime entertainment. This is the most contagious version cricket could be. Everybody, man or woman, is into it. During the IPL season, the whole family gathers around the TV to watch this “sin” at home. Oh yeah, they aren’t talking about Yoga trying to come up with new interpretation to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra….my guess is that they’ll watch IPL show time!!