Till 5-6 years back, whenever Team India would be playing cricket – whether it be test cricket or one day international – one could hear radio & TV commentaries on the same with attendant chorus of loud cheers or groans in just about every nook and corner. And the social media pages would be regularly updated on the developments in the game by so many comments and views. All other news and developments would fade in the background, as just about the entire nation would be preoccupied with Team India’s fortunes whenever it played so.
Now, the comments or views posted on social media when Team India plays are so much lesser. Only here and there, you find someone – as you walk along the roads – listening to the radio commentary and whereas, earlier, just about every house, shop or eating place resounded with cheers or groans to the TV commentary on the game; it is only again here and there that one finds the game being followed on TV today and the interest definitely not as passionate as it used to be.
While cricket continues to be quite popular in India; its popularity definitely has declined; – and declined significantly. Why so?
The biggest culprit is the T-20 game. With its totally batsman friendly pitches and conditions including wholly lopsided fielding conditions to suit the same; cricket has become worse than “gulli-danda” with its “slam-wham, thank you man” show, besides the accompanying tamasha which further trivialises the intensity of the game.
If a good sight in cricket is watching a batsman hitting a six; an equally good – if not better – sight is watching the stumps go cart wheeling when a batsman is bowled by a fast bowler!
In this slam wham, thank you man culture, where the entire focus is on as many fours and sixes being hit in as short span of time as possible; the thrill of the game has been lessened virtually less than half as the overwhelming focus on fours and sixes being enabled to be hit has made the pitches and the fielding conditions so over batsmen friendly that the thrill and intensity of the gladiatorial combat between the bowler and the batsman has been virtually short-circuited in the T-20 version of the game.
In the T-20 version where the focus is on enabling maximum number of fours and sixes being hit through over friendly pitches and fielding restrictions; the bowler is mostly, if not entirely, defensive and that takes much, much away from the intensity of the duel that would have been wrought between the bowler and the batsman if the bowler too had conditions where he too could show his full array of aggression.
T-20 version of the game with its overwhelming batsmen friendly conditions and adverse bowling conditions has virtually killed aggressive bowling in this noxious version of the game.
Aggressive bowling is as much thrilling to watch as aggressive batting. The tension that is generated when a batsman is put under pressure by sheer aggressive bowling is as absorbing and thrilling to watch as any other thing in the game.
T-20 version of the game by making so much of the bowling largely defensive and reducing it to largely slam wham batting aggression has taken away much from the thrill and the intensity of the face-off between the bowler and the batsman when the bowler – encouraged by conditions which do not restrict him – lets the batsman undergo the entire array and barrage of bowling skills, including blatantly hostile bowling.
The other thing which is harming the popularity of Indian cricket is the lack of super-heroes.
Javed Miandad was a superb cricketer and his batting records are comparable with most of the all-time greats of the game. But he is a near forgotten name today, given his antics on the field.
The public loves heroes. However good a person may be at his or her game; if the semblance of personality of such person is not that of a hero; popularity of such person does not flourish as it should.
Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid were personalities who carried themselves with considerable dignity and bearing on the field. This bearing and dignity lent colour and pedestal to their cricketing achievements and the public simply loved their aura and images.
On the other hand, a number of our cricketers today – while good at the game – often look churlish and brat-like on the field, which takes away so much from their image and distinction. Indian cricket today hardly has any super-hero in the scale and grade of such super-heroes as that mentioned above and that doesn’t help the popularity of the game.
The game needs super-heroes today and for that, the youngsters in Team India have to learn to carry themselves with dignity and grandness rather than otherwise. As Sunil Gavaskar once said, Malcolm Marshall had no need to talk to the batsman. Malcolm Marshall’s bowling did all the talking and he remains one of the most mesmerising sights in cricket ever seen when in full flow.
And we have to play cricket with Pakistan! It helps bring out the best in both the teams and adds so tremendously to the audience and following of the game!