I got to know late last night that the Times of India was about to print a story that was about to dominate TV talk-shows for the whole day. Sachin Tendulkar's fascinating comments to the newspaper made for great reading. Of course, if I remember correctly, this was the first national media vehicle to use the term 'Endulkar', but then again, I still feel that if you want to make an impact, ToI remains India's most effective media vehicle. Sachin's comments have given a sea of retired former cricketers, many of them in the team which won the World Cup against all odds and because of Kapil Dev's heroics in 1983 (I wasn't at Lords, but I was in England at the time, I might have been a pint-sized blubberball, but still) who never made enough money from endorsements, who raking in the cash as 'experts' on one channel or another. You always get the contrarians - Kris Srikkanth and Bishen Singh Bedi's, but after watching TV today (so what if India and Pakistan have decided that we might talk peace, Cricket is far more important - of course, if you're Headlines Today you do an half-hour special on the 'Fastest Train in the World') no matter what you might think about Sachin and why he must go, you also realise why a nation reveres him.
I like cricket, I make attempts to watch matches whenever I can and I have never figured some things out. Other than Mohali, (and now I believe the new stadium in Hyderabad) most cricket grounds in the country range between atrocious and disgusting. Even the mosh-pit that is the Eden gardens is a wonderful place and but thank your lucky stars that there hasn't been a stampede as yet. As a country, we play only one sport and follow only one team at that, chances are other than a handful of journalists, few cricket writers would actually know the stars coming through the Ranji ranks.
Anyway, that is not the point. I said I like cricket, I am not passionate about the sport however, I do not have time to be passionate about the sport and nor do I see the sense in people spending hundreds of crores signing up stars to promote the game. Pepsi would make a lot more sales if they reduced prices to Rs 8 instead of asking consumers to subsidise the lifestyles of the rich and famous. But then again I do not decide marketing budgets, I only occasionally write about them.
But why do many people get so passionate about cricket? While, some people can blame Jagmohan Dalmiya for being a brilliant marketing man or the teams of the early-to-mid 80's actually being good before the sport degenerated in politics, I blame people like Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, KPS Gill and Suresh Kalmadi. These are people who have not let other sports grow in this country to the detriment of the country, because sporting success and sporting events are extremely effective social harmony tools and personally, I wouldn't mind going to watch a game every once in a while. The lack of other sporting options actually works to cricket's detriment in India. Look at it this way, countries which have populations smaller than that of Greater Bombay sent teams to the World Cup in Germany and you expect me to believe that across the land we can't find 22 decent football players that we can turn into world-class pro's? Do you know how embarassing it feels when you play EA FIFA on a console and see India's football ranking at 118. Do you know how idiotic you feel when India come next to last in Hockey? And in Olympics Sports, we spend crores sending a Bollywood troupe over to Melbourne, but medals - what medals? One Silver and Rajyavardhan Rathore becomes a hero. One Silver! One point one billion people and we get one second-place prize. Pitiful.
It is disheartening to see our performances in cricket degenerate to that of our performances in other sports. But when politicians get involved, what can or should you expect! The players morphed into Tigers in a Pepsi ad, they came back like frightened pussycats!