India vs England - Let the fun begin.

2006 Feb 24 by DreamCricket

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 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 India.

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 revolution.

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 four years.

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 sub-continent.

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 England.

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.