Saturday, 21 June 2014

Cricket, Football and Hockey Walked Into a Bar...

Cricket, football and hockey walked into a bar. The gathering cheered heavily for football and free drinks were offered. Cricket sulked and occupied a rather lonesome corner, unusual for it to get treated with such anonymity. Hockey paid for the drink and stared contently at the TV set, which ran Chak De India, coincidently.
A completely new and never seen before football fewer has gripped our country. Well, the whole planet for that matter but it’s particularly unusual for India. For the current generation, it is strange for them to see cricket not being on the front page in commandingly highlighted news reports when there are some pretty decent series going on. To be honest, Indian media does not care about other country’s cricket tours. What’s rather surprising is that they ignored the Bangladesh tour of the INDIAN team. Cricket is being meted out the treatment reserved for other untouchable sports like… well… say Hockey and this may have hurt their ego, the BCCI I mean.
Hockey was once the one sport we Indians knew how to dominate. It was our only chance at glory. We supported it like crazy. The national side repaid the country’s faith in them by decimating the opposition, winning medals by the bulk. “He scores goals like we score runs.” Sir Don said in the honor of Major Dhyanchand. Of all the teams that have dominated a sport – Brazil in soccer, Australia in cricket, India’s complete domination of the pre-1980 era hockey may be a more intimidating story to tell. Tragically, the lack of media fan-frenzy during those days meant those wizards and their wizardry could never be a part of the legend.
Then a group of players collectively termed as underdogs defeated the two-time champions and favorites to lift the Cricket World Cup in 1983. The foundation was laid for a new religion to be born. Hockey, on a slide downwards in terms of performance, was pushed aside completely. The cricket bats and tiny little cricket balls became the default first toys of the newborns. Overtime, the newspaper got a new and exciting sport to fill their sports section with. With the turn of the millennium, cricket in this country had reached an unprecedented following with Sachin being unanimously chosen as the deity to be worshipped.
The overdose of cricket after the advent of IPL did hamper the mass delirium this sport generated. India hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2010, and amidst all the scams, it did help some lesser known sports being recognized. A new interest out of curiosity was developed. But the 2011 Cricket World Cup win brutally butchered the slightest opportunity other sports had of being recognized, and mind you, for some of them it was their best chance.
Football, amongst everything, never had the fortune of being a recognizable sport in the country. First there was hockey, then cricket to overshadow any heroics that the football team achieved, if there were any. We’ll never know because the media never cared a bit, or maybe we didn’t. As a result, our FIFA ranking lingers around the 150 mark, 154 precisely as of this moment. The needs of the handful of football fans are satisfied by the English Premier Leagues, the La Liga, Serie A and so on.
Having said that, the attention to the FIFA World Cup by the media, fans and even some non-football fans is a welcome change. Sunil Chhetri is guaranteed a place in our memories, if not as the captain of the national football side, then at least as the pseudo-expert on the Himmatwala-esque pre-match, mid-match and after-match blood sucking so-called talk show that provides insights and analysis of the matches. Yeah, right. KRK would have been a more interesting and insightful analyst.
News channels are riding on the fact that the matches are telecast in the night and more often than naught, sleep gets the better of the excitement of quality matches and against our wishes, we have to turn to one of these news channels first thing in the morning to know what happened.
To sum up, it feels good to finally see the cricket fans, like me, getting pumped up by the soccer mania and ignoring the recently concluded series in Bangladesh which, incidentally, we won only because Bangladesh played like Bangladesh. I hope Indian national side qualifies for the World Cup finals before humanity is erased off the planet, even if we get to play like England.

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