"Cricket is over!" - declared IOA President Suresh Kalmadi after India returned with three Olympic medals from Beijing. Like Kalmadi, many other sports officials as well as current and ex-sportspersons share this animosity for cricket, for the prime reason that it is the most followed game in India, whose popularity surpasses that of any other sport. But the question is, if other sports have been struggling to make their mark, why blame cricket for it?
Let's get back to the 1980s, the decade that heralded Indian cricket's arrival on the global stage. It was the sheer timing of events that elevated cricket to the top. Hockey became our national game post-Independence because we dominated the sport for decades with six consecutive Olympic Gold medals. Then began the decline, instability crept in and though India won gold in 1980, it no longer was the superpower.
Cricket, at that time, was comparatively in its nascent stage. Till then, radio was the only medium to catch live action of hockey or cricket matches. It was perhaps a mere coincidence that the 1983 World Cup win coincided with the arrival of television and the decline of hockey.
Cricket did not become the reigning sport overnight. The Board of control for Cricket in India (BCCI) came into existence about 79 years ago without any government backing. Being an autonomous body, it did everything on its own. So bad was the BCCI's plight that they didn't have money to honour the 1983 World Cup winners. Melody queen Lata Mangeshkar came to the rescue and raised Rs 20 lakh in a concert so that each member could get one lakh.
Not everything was ideal but it was improving, nevertheless. While no substantial results were coming in from other sports, cricket was one game where India was constantly improving and was very much unbeatable on the home soil. No doubt people got drawn towards this game.
One more very important reason for the survival and popularity of this game is - Evolution! Darwin's theory says that to survive longer one has to pass its best qualities to the next generations and adapt according to the changes. It holds true in cricket's case. The game has evolved and is still evolving to keep up with the changing times. From six-day Tests to a four-hour-long Twenty20 game, cricket has come a long way. In comparison, not much has changed in any other sport.
Apart from that every country has a bigger fan following for a certain sport. Rugby dominates South Africa and New Zealand, baseball and basketball rule USA while Europe is completely soccer-struck. So why make so much fuss if cricket rules the Indian subcontinent?
It's true that this sport is played by a handful of countries but the way it has been handled (despite all the controversies and flaws) and promoted, is really commendable. After Jagmohan Dalmiya took over as the ICC president and then as BCCI chief, he not only strengthened India on the ICC panel, but also made it the financial superpower of the game. This game, like any other sport in the country, is not unscathed by politics and corruption but despite all the odds, it has grown impressively.
There are numerous reasons to loathe the Indian cricket board but at the same time there are sufficient lessons for the sports bodies and federations in the country to learn from them on how to grow into a strong sports body.