Cricket: The Great Indian Obsession

Mar 02, 2009
*Special to asia!

Indian schoolchildren may not know who their prime minister is, but few will have problems naming their country's cricket captain. So what is India's fascination with this most famous of its colonial inheritance?


Indian cricket fans shout anti-Indian cricket team slogans during a protest in New Delhi

Indian cricket fans shout anti-Indian cricket team slogans during a protest in New Delhi.

It is March 14, 1996 and a chauffeur is driving me through the streets of Calcutta in a beat up Ambassador. On a regular day we would be patiently ploughing through traffic in this wonderful city. But not on this day.

Mobs of angry men line the streets with stones in their hands, ready to hurl them at anything and anybody. Overturned rickshaws and an old broken down Fiat with punctured tyres decorate the thoroughfare. And, of course, Heaven forbid that any demonstration of public discontent in Cal is conducted without the introduction of some spectacular pyrotechnics. For this occasion, the rioting hoi polloi has chosen to denude the passing trucks of their tyres and set them ablaze.

For all his mock grandeur, my poor driver is terrified. His anxiety is so intense I imagine he must be ready to wet his threadbare trousers, no doubt a remnant from the days of the Raj, which, given their antiquity would instantly bio-degrade. The marauding crowd was demonstrating the deep feelings they had for another remnant of the British Raj—the lovely game of cricket. That’s all it was, that March day in 1996, a mild expression of disappointment over India losing at the semi-finals of the World Cup.

And now, a decade later, the Indian team has failed to make it through the preliminary rounds of the 2007 World Cup leaving the whole nation with its knickers in a twist. You might think me perverse but I think it’s hugely more fun when India loses than when we win. The gratification of a victory would have been done and dusted after 48 hours of inebriated celebration. But the ignominy of defeat! Whoa!

It propels us Indians into the sport we relish the most—post mortems. The armchair pundits nursing their single malts, the street hooligans working off their testosterone, the politicians enjoying the distraction, the bloggers engaging in intellectual sophistry, the common man breaking out of his tedium and the media gleefully exploiting the moment—all have a riotous time playing judge, jury and hangman. There is more rush to be gotten out of burning effigies of players, pillorying the captain, hounding the coach and witch hunting the officials than from all the rides in Disneyland.

And then there is the sad lament of the players asking why their fans, being the total population of the country, can’t find it in their hearts to understand the pain and anguish coursing through their veins. I feel for them. You see nobody had read the Indian Fan Riot Act to the poor saps before they left for the West Indies. Otherwise they would have known:

The penalty for scoring a blob is to have your residence razed to the ground a la Israel bulldozing the houses of suicide bombers (just to give you a sense of how the punishment fits the crime).

Read the pitch wrong, let the ball take your wicket between bat and pad, and lose to Bangladesh and watch your insurance and biscuit endorsements being handed over to luscious, ever reliable Bollywood sirens.

Get eliminated in the preliminary round and capital punishment, reserved only for serial killers and high treason, kicks in.

Well, the boys can’t claim ignorance anymore for a tighter kick in the trousers has never been delivered as on this occasion. The future is consequently, bright!

Anyway the question I am asked by curious “foreigners” is why the national psyche has come off its hinges over the loss at a sport that the rest of the world considers pretty inane. The answers are plentiful and millions of gurus are on hand at a multitude of websites to offer wise and asinine opinions in equal proportion.

As for me, I believe it is a simple matter of the heart. I played cricket in the hot Indian summers with swarms of kids in back alleys, main streets, maidans (grounds) and beaches. When the monsoons struck we moved indoors into the school corridors, common areas of apartment blocks and my mother’s dining room. I lost my two front teeth to a “rising delivery “ and have had to grow a moustache to camouflage the dent to my good looks. My teammates included Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Anglo Indians all of whom contributed to the extraordinary culinary variety of post-match dinners.

Our wicket keeper, BG, died on the battlefield in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. My dear Parsi surgeon and cricket mad friend had me on his operating table after I burst my disc playing across the line at a Non-Benders game. My son went on to play for the Singapore U-15 national team. I know all of this sounds like self-indulgent blather, but the point is, folks, every post–Independence Indian has equally deep-rooted connections to the game. Slice us anywhere you like and you will find cricket as the reference point to our personal journeys. Cricket is a part of our ethos package.



The men in blue


So, to all the splendid minds who are trying to resolve the great Indian cricket dilemma I profess only one remedy—put the players in tights instead of baggies and you will have an entertained audience and the fans will have something to aim for in their irate moments. I jest, of course!

The truth is that the Indian cricket team is the caretaker of the personal treasure of virtually every Indian on the planet—the love of the game.

Understandably we are all a bit crestfallen at the moment but like all die-hard fans we believe the phoenix will rise from the ashes and I am willing to bet my last pair of underpants that the 2011 World Cup will come home to India.


When he is not writing or acting in Singapore sitcoms, Subin Subaiah is a banker by profession. Once the VP of the Singapore Cricket Association, Subin is a passionate sports fan and tries to swing a golf club whenever he can.