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By Sunil Gavaskar
The biggest sporting spectacle has begun and for the next month all eyes will be on South Africa as the world battles out to get their hands on the magnificent trophy. The Olympics are huge too but they have a big following for some ‘Blue Riband’ events like athletics and some field sports; swimming and such like but not for all the events. In football though, the following is far greater with people watching irrespective of whether the team they back are playing or not.
If cricket is the sport of the masses in India then football is what causes frenzy in South America, Europe, all the Middle East and Africa. In fact there is no country in the world that does not follow football. It is such a simple sport to understand with no complicated rules so it is easier for even the odd ignorant to follow and understand it. It is also the cheapest to play and the word is used advisedly, because all one needs is a round object so a budding youngster can play it at home or on the street and then of course when the youngster gets older and better at it he can play at the local stadium or if he is really good then the best grounds in the world. There is no exorbitantly priced equipment needed to begin to play it and that is why parents don’t mind if a kid is playing it since it doesn’t set their pockets back.
India won the Cricket World Cup in 1983 and the T20 World Cup in 2007. For every World Cup after that and the two T20 world events since 2007 the expectations and hopes of a cricket mad country have only multiplied. Since it was done once the feeling is that it can be done again and so when it does not happen there is a witch hunt and excuses and reasons found or fabricated or invented by all and sundry to explain why another trophy was not brought back. The simple reason that we were not good enough is forgotten in the melee to hit out at somebody and hold him responsible.
In England pretty much the same thing happens as the country is football mad and because they won in 1966 they all think that England is going to win it again. That England does not even win the European Cup is forgotten when the World Cup comes along. The English like to think that everything they have is the best and they have a media that encourages such thinking so if you were to read the English media then their stadiums are the best, their tournaments are the best, their league is the best, their facilities are the best and their players are the best. Naturally that builds up expectations even more and so there is greater disappointment when the trophy eludes them.
The team in South Africa is under tremendous pressure of expectations raised by an eager media build up of their chances and that pressure can be seen when their players are doing a media conference. Their foreheads are creased, no smiles, plenty of shrugs and there is hardly any evidence of the famed British humor in their interaction with the media and the impression is that the sooner the inquisition ends the better it is.
What will come as a surprise for Indian fans is that almost all the star players in the England team have a personal arrangement with the Football Association for bonuses if England wins the cup. So Gerrard may get ‘x’ amount, a Lampard may get ‘x’ plus and a Rooney may get ‘xx’ plus apart from the fee that they are getting to go to South Africa. These are just three names and others may have smaller similar arrangements with the FA. This seems to be pretty much accepted in England since the sport is a professional one. However just imagine the furor in India if some of our stars were to look for similar individual bonuses if India won the World Cup. Sure the BCCI will be generous and give a massive bonus if that happens but that will be equal to every player in the squad even if some may have played a minor role and the odd game or so.
David Beckham got injured a month or so back and was ruled out of action for a few months and so his dream of being in the World Cup squad went for a toss. He however is part of the squad and taken along as a mentor for some of the youngsters in the team. Whether his presence acts as a distraction since the media will be looking to see something or is a positive one will be known only as the tournament progresses. Again it is something that will probably never happen in Indian cricket but wouldn’t it be great inspiration for the players to have somebody like Mohinder Amarnath, winner of the Man-of-the-Match in the finals in 1983, in the dressing room as they play the World Cup?
Kapil Dev would be the best of course but his relationship with the board is still a bit rocky so there could be unease at that but who knows there is still time to go and if the England experiment with Beckham is successful more teams may follow that.