India is always ready to lap up cricket, but this series promises to be more interesting than the frenzy surrounding India vs Pakistan.
Cricket has always been the number one sport in India.
In 1983 when India stunned the world by beating the
mighty West Indies in the final of the Prudential
World Cup, the match was beamed live to a massive
audience through the state-run Doordarshan network.
The event marked the first time Indians were able to
watch their cricketers live on TV outside of Asia. That victory also catapulted India's cricketers from mere stars to major celebrities. Life would never be the same for them again.
But it was a series of events in the early 1990s that
occurred in remarkable symmetry, almost like the
planets coming together in one line, that catapulted
Indian cricket into the realm of mega bucks.
That has led to the position today where over 60% of
the cricket world's revenues emanate from India and
Indians, both at home and around the globe. India's
population stands at approximately 1.2 billion (of
whom 35% are below the age of 15) while there are 21
million NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) and PIOs (People
of Indian Origin) spread across 110 countries.
Exact figures are impossible to come by. But it would
be a good bet that at least half the population
watches some cricket and a good portion of that plays cricket at some level. These are staggering numbers really.
The rise of the middle class, estimated at over 300
million--plus a million or so classed as
'super-rich'--means the Board of Control for Cricket
in India (BCCI) is one of the richest controlling
bodies of any sport in the world.
Added to this is the fact that Indians living abroad
are even crazier about cricket - if that is
possible - than those living in India. Being leading
professionals in such fields as hi-tech and medicine,
they too wield enormous financial clout and all this
makes cricket a never-ending cash cow which the BCCI
is always keen to milk to the maximum.
A match involving India's glamour boys held anywhere
in the world is certain to attract a full house. This
has been the case in such exotic (from cricket's point
of view) venues as Sharjah, Dubai, Nairobi, Toronto
and The Netherlands.
Stage an India v. Pakistan ODI at the North Pole, the joke goes and the spectators will outnumber the penguins.
So what were those almost uncanny events which came
together in a short time span that helped to make
India the cricket capital of the world?
The first was the advent of Sachin Tendulkar on the
world stage in 1989 as a 16-year-old. Within a year he
had scored his first Test century and by 1991 he was
being recognised world-wide as one of the greatest
talents the world had ever seen. (Sidenote: Sachin is so popular that this website's online store pavilionshop.com has a separate featured store for him!)
Also in 1989, India at last embraced economic
liberalisation and opened up its markets to the global
economy for the first time. The Prime Minister at the
time was PV Narasimha Rao. But it was his Finance
Minister who was the mastermind behind the one single
act that turned the Indian economy around and
empowered, indeed created the massive middle-class of
That minister was Manmohan Singh, India's Prime
Minister since March 2004. Not entirely by coincidence 1991 also saw Rupert Murdoch's STAR TV network usher in the cable TV
All this culminated in the BCCI's then-supremo
Jagmohan Dalmiya fighting the traditional cricket
nations tooth-and-nail to grab the right for India
(with Pakistan and Sri Lanka) to stage the 1996 World
Cup. India and Pakistan had also hosted the 1987 World
Cup. But this time the BCCI rebuffed Doordarshan to
sell the telecast rights to a satellite channel for
the first time.
There are approximately 125 millions homes in India
with TV, about half of whom have cable connections.
Total viewership exceeds 500 million, probably the
highest in the world. There are nearly 100 national
and regional 24-hour channels available (most monthly
subscriptions do not cost more than 3 Pounds Sterling)
including half-a-dozen sports exclusive channels, most
of which serve up a diet of international cricket
broadcast from around the world 12 months a year, both
live and archival.
Indeed, in India television is a national obsession as
much as cricket is, uniting all strata of society.
These figures go some way in explaining the staggering
amount ($612 million) that Nimbus paid to the BCCI for
exclusive TV rights for Indian cricket for the next
While cricket is the most popular sport without a
doubt, English touring sides have traditionally been
the most unpopular.
This was certainly not the case when Douglas Jardine
brought his MCC team to India for the first time in
1933-34. Just a year after Bodyline, Jardine was
immensely popular in the land of his birth as he went
out of his way to encourage cricket in India.
But from then till the 70s, the cream of England's cricketers
would invariably decide to skip a tour to India.
There is no Hindi equivalent of the term. But the tag
of 'Whinging Poms' has been attached to English
touring teams for more than half a century now.
And few tours have been without their share of
controversy, not always the fault of the players
though (I have written an article on this subject).
Last year's Ashes saw record viewership figures for a
series not involving India. There is a noticeable lack
of buzz surrounding the start of the current series at
Nagpur on March 1. This is perhaps also due to the
Indian team just getting back from a long tour of
Pakistan which produced the usual frenzy in the
It was Nasser Hussain who led the last England team to
India in 2001-02. (India won the Test series 1-0
while the ODI series was drawn 3-3). An England A team (actually recruits from the
ECB National Academy) also visited India in early 2004
and played in the domestic Duleep Trophy which is
contested by India's zonal sides (North, South, East,
West and Central). The tour gave Indian fans their first glimpse of Kevin Pietersen. Still not eligible for the senior
side, he reeled off four centuries (plus 94),
including two in one match.
Fast bowler Simon Jones too was part of that side. But
he was flown to the West Indies to assist the main
English squad midway through the tour.
Of course this time there is plenty of curiousity
surrounding Monty Panesar, the first Sikh to play for
This series between two resurgent teams is definitely going to capture the imagination of the Indian fans in the coming days. Ask any Indian fan and he will confidently tell you his side will have a cakewalk in the series. English fans are probably hoping for a repeat of the Ashes magic.