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By Suresh Menon
The World Cup merely confirmed what everybody has known for some time now. That India are the centre of the cricketing universe. This has been the case financially for at least a decade. Last year India emerged as the No 1 Test-playing nation. And although Australia are still ahead of them in one-day internationals, for the next four years at least no one can take away the tag of world champions from India.
There was an inevitability about India’s success in the final against Sri Lanka that had begun to reveal itself from the quarterfinals. India defeated each of the former champions. They already had the best batting side, and once the fielding improved they looked a different unit altogether. In the early games, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni threw up his hands in despair every time fielding was mentioned.
There was a crucial baton-passing. With the failures of Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar throwing a nation into temporary depression, it was the batters of the next generation, Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli who set them on course before Dhoni dropped himself into the cauldron and came up with a jewel of an innings.
When Sachin Tendulkar – with a world champion’s medal at his sixth attempt – was carried on Kohli’s shoulder after the match, the younger man said, “He has been carrying us on his shoulders for so long, this was nothing,” thus mixing the symbolic and the literal but leaving no doubt as to his meaning.
Since at least 1996, India have gone into every World Cup as one of the favourites, and in 2003 made the final only to be whipped by Australia. This was clearly the last chance for a whole generation of players.
Dhoni tried to put the win in perspective by pointing to the recent successes of Indian shooters, badminton and chess players. But cricket attracts the lion’s share of public interest, sponsorship and television money, and that is only likely to grow. Should India win the Davis Cup, the number of youngsters taking up tennis is not comparable to the numbers that will be attracted to cricket, already the most important sport in India, after the World Cup. Politicians have promised all kinds of goodies as part of their exercise in climbing on to the bandwagon (and brandwagon). Cricketers guarantee publicity like nobody else.
By winning the World Cup India might have breathed life into the 50-over format that was on the verge of dying out once T20 made its appearance.
With the epicentre of the game having shifted to Asia (three Asian teams were in the semifinals), the danger is that boards that abhor both transparency and accountability will be running the world game. Pakistan’s administration is in a mess following the recent terror attacks on the touring Sri Lankan team, the charges of match-fixing which saw them lose three talented players, and the corruption and indifference of the cricket board. Sri Lanka haven’t had proper elections to their board in over five years. India are money-obsessed when they are not indulging in muscle-flexing and telling the world who is boss.
The equation between power and responsibility will have to be worked out if the cricketing world is not to be split along the lines of the haves and the have-nots . England and Australia officially lost their power of veto in 1993, but India continue to exercise their unofficial veto thanks to their financial muscle.
The World Cup win is a great opportunity to move away from confrontation and towards greater co-operation. Dhoni and his men have increased the power of the Indian administrators. The players have shown themselves to be a hard-working professional lot who are willing to make sacrifices for the game. If they inspire the administrators to do the same, then this might be a significant turning point in world cricket.