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India finds out that cricket is not everything - Gulu Ezekiel Column
by Gulu Ezekiel
Aug 23, 2008
India finds out that cricket is not everything!

By Gulu Ezekiel

A strange and wondrous thing happened across India on Wednesday afternoon.

In Dambulla the Indian cricket team was struggling to draw level in the ODI series after losing the first match to Sri Lanka on Monday.

Set a small target of 143 for victory (they had been dismissed for 147 in the first match two days earlier), the Indians huffed and puffed away before scrambling home by three wickets.

It was a tough, tense game typical of low-scoring one-day matches.

Yet nobody was interested. Even as the match moved towards its climax, the nation was focused on our two boxers who were all set to fight their quarterfinal bouts, one win away from a sure medal.

A couple of hours earlier, there had been the shock bronze medal for wrestler Sushil Kumar that both surprised and delighted Indian sports fans. Would our boxers now get us at least one more medal and help India come away from the Olympics with more than two for the first time in over 100 years?

A friend sent me a desperate sms from his office (fortunately for both of us, I work from home). Had India wrapped up the ODI match? My response is not printable in a family publication-this from someone who has dearly loved cricket for 40 years.

Can India win a medal, my cricket-mad neighbour asked me anxiously before Jitender Kumar's bout (which he would eventually lose)? I told him we already had one from wrestling and another one or two from boxing would be a bonus. His look of stunned joy was a sight to behold.

On Monday the first of our boxing quarterfinalists, Akhil Kumar who had captured the country's imagination with his feisty attitude was outclassed and eliminated. One hope had died away at the final hurdle just like badminton star Saina Nehwal last week. It was agonizing.

Now it was the turn of Jitender and then Vijender. When Jitender lost, out hearts sank. Still, we had the wrestling medal as a consolation.

Caution turned to hope as Vijender's bout began, then to guarded optimism as he inched ahead and finally exploded into national elation. A medal at last from boxing. Too often in past Olympics had our boxers and wrestlers fallen just short. Those hard-luck stories were history now.

Abhinav Bindra had set the ball rolling at the start of the Olympics when he became the first Indian individual gold medalist. But still the doubts persisted-we have excelled over the years in chess, billiards, snooker (none of them Olympic events), even archery (with world titles) and four years ago Rajyavendra Singh Rathore had also won a silver in shooting.

But when would India strike an individual medal in a blood-and-thunder sport that requires pure physical abilities?

It finally happened on Wednesday and for the first time in a generation, cricket was relegated to second place.

There is a visceral hatred among Indian sportspersons against the media for their excessive focus on cricket. The feeling is the media is alone responsible for its popularity.

There is more than a grain of truth in that allegation and the massive hype which helped in successfully flogging the gross Indian Premier League to the public only seemed to underline those feelings.

Wednesday should hopefully change all that. And as a cricket lover-and I must add here, a lifelong lover of the Olympic movement as well-I welcome that change. A single-sport obsession is unhealthy for a nation. It is time for India to move on and grow up.

The media could be accused of hype again on Wednesday. But for once it was not cricket that was the object of their attention. Amen to that.

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