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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 December 2006, 03:59 GMT
South Asia's cricket obsession
Boria Majumdar
By Boria Majumdar

Cricket is an obsession in South Asia

A recent news report in newspapers across India and Bangladesh drew the attention of cricket fans across the globe.

It quoted the World Cup cricket official Janelle Penny as saying that 90% of tickets for matches involving India and Bangladesh had been sold out much ahead of the championship in March.

Add to this the fact that in Australia, Indians, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans have already booked the giant screen at Federation Square in downtown Melbourne to watch their teams play.

At a time when Indian cricket is underperforming, such euphoria is surprising.

A billion hopes

And for Bangladesh, which has no chance of moving up much in the championship, the craze is inexplicable unless attention is moved to some startling truths, which go beyond cricket in general and the World Cup in particular.

The craze isn't unnatural because cricket in South Asia has gone beyond being a national phenomenon to a more global or trans-national one.

Cricket, religion at home and a symbolic flexed muscle in the international arena, is thus South Asia's best-known brand name

This is because the fortunes of the Indian and other South Asian cricket teams encapsulate the story of post-colonial South Asia in microcosm - tapestries permanently being woven around the performance of 11 men who carry on their shoulders the demands of more than a billion people.

This realisation once again dawned on me while speaking at the University of Toronto recently.

I was amazed at what cricket implies to India and its diaspora. Words of caution that cricket helps provide an illusion of a national consciousness, inconceivable otherwise, were not entertained.

Bangladeshi cricket fans
Bangladeshi and Indian fans have snapped up most World Cup tickets
When asked what was likely to await coach Greg Chappell if India won the Cup, I was in two minds.

Before I could get myself to say anything reasonable, an over-enthusiastic cricket fan from the audience jumped up and suggested, "Chappell may even receive the Bharat Ratna [the highest Indian civilian honour]".

That a non-resident Indian in Canada who follows cricket on the Internet could pronounce such a radical view was revealing.

Cricket for South Asians across the world provides a space where all differences are overcome.

The assertion of an Indian or Bangladeshi identity globally, expression of cultural nationalism or feeling of emotional commonality are all rooted in cricket.

Interestingly, a poll conducted by a national daily in India a couple of years ago on the attitudes of the Indian youth found that more than 50% of the respondents, given a chance, would live in some other country. This figure might have been higher for Bangladesh given the continuing political and economic instability in the country.

Yet all of these expatriates would inevitably stay up nights in the US to watch their country play in England and participate in detailed analyses of their team's strengths and weaknesses in countless internet chat rooms.

Contradiction

The reaction of the global South Asian, a contradiction of sorts in that he wants to escape his country yet embrace its best-known passion, draws attention to two things.

First, cricket is no longer a mere national obsession.

Modern cricket is truly a trans-national phenomenon, which obsesses the cosmopolitan global South Asian who transcends the geographical boundaries of the nation.

England cricket team members on elephants in India
Cricket now largely sustains itself from revenues from South Asia

This Indian or Bangladeshi is less national and more global, a world citizen capable of casting a critical eye on the tribulations confronting contemporary economic and political life.

Cricket, religion at home and a symbolic flexed muscle in the international arena, is thus South Asia's best-known brand name.

In recent times, Bollywood and cricket have emerged like the ubiquitous Indian curry that is fancied as an authentic flavour of India the world over.

For most people who otherwise have a very vague idea of the country, its current political situation or economic structures, the words cricket and Bollywood, like curry, is sure to at least generate an enthusiastic response of "Oh yes, I know that one, my best friend is crazy about cricket".

Today, it is the culture of Bollywood cinema and cricket that serve as the very distinctive and exotic essence which draws people who would otherwise be uninterested in 21st Century India, which has little to set itself apart from a host of other southern countries.

In other words, cricket, irrespective of the way India or Bangladesh is performing, helps post-colonial South Asia assert itself on the world stage.

In fact, South Asia and its super-strong diaspora have gradually begun to replace Western control with South Asian control in cricket.

One simple fact is enough to prove the point.

In the inaugural match of the 2004 Champions' Trophy at the Rose Bowl in Hampshire, England, not a single advertising billboard was from a local company. Every company advertised was from the sub-continent.

India vs Pakistan cricket match
Indian cricket remains as popular as ever
And South Asia, despite being a late and tardy entrant in the contest to win the rights to host the 2011 World Cup, was eventually a runaway winner.

Finally, World Cup ticket sales point to the class differentiation across South Asian diasporas of the world.

Had the championship been held in Europe and not in the Caribbean, the number of Bangladeshis making it to the tournament would be far less.

Higher income

This is because sections of the Bangladeshi diaspora in the US are of a much higher income bracket compared to those in the UK.

While Indians would anyway dominate the event, such is the strength of Indian diasporas in the UK, US or even Australia, for Pakistanis and Bangladeshis the Caribbean offers an opportunity like none other.

It is as if their countries have suddenly shifted next door, making their presence in the World Cup more than a mere occasion to see some excellent cricket.

To round up with a final example of this obsession - the Press Trust of India news agency reported on 3 May from Port of Spain in the West Indies: "An Indian visitor to Jamaica happened to be the first applicant for 2007 Cricket World Cup tickets as official ticket centres were opened throughout the tournament's nine host venues.

"Mr Venugopal, who went on to Trinidad and Tobago, said: 'I want to see India play next year. I am definitely coming back even if that means I spend all my savings.'"

The author is a sports historian and author of Twenty-Two Yards to Freedom: A Social History of Indian Cricket. He is a research fellow at Latrobe University, Melbourne


This debate is now closed. Here is a selection of your views

Does the author not know that Sri Lanka and Pakistan are a part of South Asia? Or did he blatantly ignore the two countries in his analysis?
Khurram , US

This article does not reflect the true nature of cricket in the subcontinent. The Indian cricket board generates revenue in millions of dollars every year. Yet there is NOT one world class stadium in India. Indian public parks are in horrible conditions. There is absolutely no youth and or domestic programs for young people to cultivate a culture in athletics. Cricket has a monopoly in the country and the revenue it generates is used for absolutely nothing. An experience in any cricket stadium in India speaks for itself. No giants screens, no raffles, no music, no proper food/water supply. It is just that the cricket fans are so high on spirits and emotions, that they immerse themselves on a eight-hour-long cricket match, sometimes 5 days long, basically to escape from life. India and the rest of Asian countries have had the worst records among wins and losses past few years. Cricket is the worst managed and organized sport in the world right now. It has no structure and factually no country is interested in this sport. India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Kenya - these countries have enormous problems, from poverty to political crisis. Australia and England DO NOT CARE ABOUT CRICKET. England is more about soccer and the Ashes tournament. Australia is about Rugby and the Ashes tournament.
Ctron, USA

I agree with the author completely. When it comes to the craze for cricket no one can beat South Asians. I spend money online every time India is about to play a series so that I can watch cricket no matter where I am. All I need is high speed internet connection and cricket is live on my computer screen. To watch India win a match is more valuable to me then all the money spent.
R. Trivedi, US

I find the grassroots level popularity of football more interesting. As a child, I used to play soccer all the time and found it much more interesting and cricket was as dull as it gets. I would love it if we stop pouring all that money on cricket and invest in other sports, like soccer. A game that actually does not have commercial breaks.
Dipesh, India

The author does a very good job of highlighting the contradictions of the South Asian diaspora's fascination for cricket and also wanting to get out of their home countries. Another dimension of diaspora cricket cultures is, I reckon, the bridge it builds between generations. Between first generation migrants and their British-born sons, cricket often emerges as one of the few shared passions.
Projit, India/UK

One of my great memories of visiting India as a tourist was playing cricket with teenage boys. As an American, I thought I had to run every time I hit the ball. Not so! After many games during two visits, I had my chance to be a bowler. I even hit the wicket once. My big regret is not seeing India play Pakistan in Lahore. Maybe next time.
Todd Melby, USA

As a British born Bangladeshi, I can definitely testify to the growth in interest in cricket in the UK-based community since Bangladesh became a test-playing nation. It all started with our victory over Pakistan in the World Cup. It gives people a focus for pride to see Bangladesh, the underdog in terms of development, achieve some success.
Iqbal, UK

Here in Canada, I see more Pakistanis, Sri Lankans and West Indian playing club and university cricket then Indians and Bangladeshis! So buddy do some research before you write an article for the BBC next time.
Eddy, Canada

Interesting article with a very wrong title, it should read as "India's Cricket Obsession as noted by an Indian writer".
Mohsin Masood, Canada

I know of no other game in which 95% of the players are either standing or sitting for the duration of the game. It is a game that should be banned in developing countries as it takes away people's attention from work over a prolonged productive period during the day. The subcontinent should focus on games like soccer and basketball as they encourage dynamism and do not require expensive infrastructure.
Imran Khan, US

I am a Pakistani, I love cricket and support the Pakistan national team. But I find the mixture of extreme nationalism and cricket uncomfortable. It is also embarrassing, given the below-average performance of the Pakistan in particular and South Asia in general. Besides, I feel that South Asian cricket-governing bodies, in their greed for sponsorship and money, are destroying Test cricket in favour of the one-Day nonsense.
Nausherwan Lahori, Lahore, Pakistan

Certainly a very true reflection of South Asian mindset when it comes to cricket, but I find it very interesting that an article about South Asian cricket only manages a single reference to Pakistan and even that towards the end. And I find highly patronising that the writer seems to think that Bangladeshi and Pakistani diaspora in the UK cannot afford to see a cricket match. Next please try to be less biased in you reporting.
Saqib, UK

Yes, it is very true that cricket and Bollywood are a craze in the subcontinent, but one of the main reason behind that is: population living under poverty line in India and elsewhere in sub-continent can only escape reality by immersing themselves in cricket or movies.
Parthiv, India

I am really sad to read about the money being spent on cricket while all other sports are languishing in the country. I am also very sorry that cricket culture has begun to pervade even villages and children are loosing interest in native sports. There are many interesting games that children used to play in India. But the dominance of cricket is destroying knowledge and practice of traditional games and sports.
Vyasa, India

I think it should be appreciated that the writer also is in two minds about the Indian mindset itself, as I feel my indian friends certainly have more to talk about rather than just Bollywood and Cricket. Its almost 2007 mate, not 1983, when India won the World Cup and Amitabh Bachchan was a superstar!
Jawad Jamil, Dubai, UAE

The author is absolutely right about the passion of cricket in South Asia. To tell you the truth, cricket is in our blood! We just cant live without following cricket. As far as passion is concerned, nobody stand a chance against the cricket fans of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan!
Shakir, Bangladesh

An article on "South Asian" cricket and yet not a single mention of Pakistan - I wonder if the author knows any thing about South Asia's' cricketing history - or geography for that matter. Pakistan vs. India matches have historically pulled record numbers of people. Bangladesh has only recently come to the cricket scene where as Pakistan is one of the World Cup winners.
Steven, UK

Everything is ok about the write-up. Except the columnist doesn't not understand fully the strength of Indians living outside India or their feelings. Though Indians live outside India for higher incomes, their hearts beat for every aspect of India. It is not only cricket that interests on resident Indians (NRIs) but even the smallest news from India.
Krishna Bandaru, USA

By completely ignoring Pakistan's contribution and enthusiasm of cricket the article is even less worthy of a read. For the writers benefit, Pakistan has produced some of the most exciting cricketers over the decades, the worlds fastest and best bowlers come from Pakistan such as Imran Khan, Wasim, Waqar, Shoaib, as well some great batsmen. But i don't think the writer can see past his beloved India.
Saj Khan, UK

How have South Asian nations wrested control of cricket from the western nations ? By blowing our precious little money on it? We routinely get beaten by South Africa and Australia whose populations are smaller than most Indian states! Not only that, cricket is not even the number one sport in these countries, they are competent in other sports like football (soccer) and rugby too. A look at the medals table from the recently concluded Asian Games in Doha will show the enormous cost of the cricket 'obsession' in India and South Asia in general.
Vikram, Austin, TX

Good luck to India in winning the World Cup. The way it looks like now, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have better chances of winning than India.
Buddhika Senanayake, Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Somehow when I think of South Asian cricket, Bangladesh is not the first country that comes to mind.
Mona Mazoomdar, US

I am originally from South Asia. But the country I come from is not a Test playing country. I have lived in Europe for literally half a century but my South Asian (Indian) looks define my identity in the minds of my white hosts in Britain and Finland, the two white countries where I have lived for half a century. Cricket as a game, has caught the imagination of South Asians. There are individual players of great talent in all the South Asian Test teams. But their performance as teams leave much to be desired. The teams are not consistent as Australia is. India, of all South Asian countries, is the greatest disappointment to me. It looks as if they don't really aim to win. They are just happy being there on the world stage. Like Bollywood, the India cricket team has yet to fulfil its potential.
Michael Fahmy, Finland




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