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Cricket: India’s Favorite Sport and Cultural Backbone

Cricket is a strategic team sport played primarily using a bat and a ball. It is played worldwide, but it is most popular in the commonwealth countries.

India, a commonwealth country, is known for being obsessed with the sport. So much so that the sport can be declared the unofficial religion of India.

In light of the ongoing Indian Premier League, I take the liberty to introduce you to the world of cricket and the crazy cricket culture in India.

How is cricket played?

Cricket is undoubtedly the most complex sport, especially for those who aren’t already familiar with it.

Cricket is played in teams of 11 players. Two teams compete with each other to score more runs than the other. Each team plays an equal number of innings and the team with the highest number of runs at the end of the innings wins.

Innings, spelt as a plural word even while referring to the singular form, refers to the period one team takes the turn to bat. As they bat, the opposing team fields to try and end their innings by dismissing the batsmen. In total, there are 10 ways to dismiss a batsman.

At a time, there are 11 fielders from one team and 2 batsmen from the other. Depending on the format of the game, a match can have either 1 or 2 innings for each team.

The match begins with the captains of the two teams tossing a coin. This determines which team is to bat first.

Other Useful Cricket Jargons

Overs: 1 over equals 6 ball deliveries by the bowler.

Run: The points scored by the batsmen.

Fielder: Players spread out across the field to either prevent the ball from hitting the boundary, to throw the ball towards the wicket, or to catch the ball to dismiss the batsman.

Out: Dismissal of a batsman

Boundary: The periphery of the field lined by an object. If the ball hits the boundary, 4 runs are scored. If it goes over the boundary, 6 points are scored.

Match Formats

Test

Test matches are the most traditional type of cricket matches. The game is played over a period of 5 days and each team has 2 innings to score runs.

One day

As the name suggests, this format is played within 1 day. Each team gets 1 innings with 50 overs to score their runs.

T20

T20 or twenty-twenty is also another type of one day format but for a shorter duration. Here each team gets 1 innings with 20 overs to score as many runs as possible. This style was invented in 2003 making it the most recent format.

Setting

Professionally, the game is played in an oval-shaped grass field with a carefully mown 22-yard rectangular pitch at the centre. A wicket is placed at the end of the pitch and white lines mark the point where the wicket is placed and where the batsmen stand.

N Modi Stadium
The Narendra Modi Stadium in Gujarat, India is the largest cricket stadium in the world. The rectangle in the middle of the field is the 22-yard pitch. Image Credit:  The Hindustan Times

Basic Equipment

Cricket Ball: The ball is made of cork, leather, and twine. Cricket balls were traditionally red but nowadays, white balls are used for better visibility. The circumference of the ball can’t be more than 22.9 cm.

ball
A traditional red leather white twine ball. Photo by Alessandro Bogliari on Unsplash

Cricket Bat: A wooden bat is typically made of willow and the handle with cane, wood and rubber. The total length of the bat can’t exceed 96.5 cm

bat
A man holding a cricket bat. Photo by Yogendra Singh on Unsplash

Wickets: A set of 3 thick wooden stumps pitched on the ground with a pair of wooden bails are placed on top of the wickets. If the ball hits the stumps, it will cause the bails to fall, resulting in the dismissal of the batsman.

wicket
A wicket on the pitch. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

International Cricket

Professional cricket is played by both men’s and women’s teams. However, men’s cricket gets more attention than women’s games even in this decade.

The International Cricket Council or the ICC is the highest governing body for cricket in the world. Presently there are 104 member countries with 12 full members and 92 associate members.

India is one of the full members.

Cricket in India

Even though hockey is the national sport, cricket is more popular and more celebrated.

Indian teams play both domestically and internationally. The national cricket teams, representing India internationally, are given the most attention.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India or the BCCI is the governing body for cricket in India for both the men’s and women’s teams. This is the body that is a member of the ICC for all three match formats.

The Indian men’s cricket team is called the Men in Blue, while the women’s team is called the Women in Blue because of the color of their uniform. Both teams represent India in international cricket.

The men’s team have shown exemplary performances and currently hold world records and titles, becoming role models for cricket fans. So far, India has won 2 one day international world cup titles, one in 1983 and another in 2011.

Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, Sourav Ganguly, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and Virat Kohli are some of the notable figures.

virat kohli
Virat Kohli, the present captain of the Men’s National Team. Image Credit: Stars Bio Point

Sachin Tendulkar, one of the former captains, is another iconic figure and is considered one of the best cricketers to have ever existed. So much so that Indians call him the God of cricket.

sachin tendulkar
Sachin Tendulkar, former Indian Men’s National Team Captain. Image Credit: The Mirror

The women’s team too have accomplished various achievements, notably in the past few years. They had become the runners up in the women’s world cup for One Day International in 2005 and 2017.

Mitali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur, Shafali Verma, Jhulan Goswami and Smriti Mandana are some of the notable figures.

Mitali Raj
Mitali Raj, the present Test and ODI captain of the Indian Women’s National Team. Image Credit: Indian Express

Initially, cricket was considered to be a sport for the elite, such as royalty and nobility. They would even go on to represent India internationally.
Over time, ordinary people from large cities would play, then, gradually, people from small towns and villages would find their place in the team.

At present, cricketers representing India internationally enjoy celebrity status in India. This influences the ordinary people to play cricket in hopes of earning a livelihood and improving their social status.

Brief History of Indian Cricket

Cricket is a legacy of the British imperialists that integrated itself into the Indian culture. This is why it is still popular even after its independence in 1947.

The origins of cricket are hard to trace but, some sources believe it started sometime in the middle ages.

It evolved from a simple ancient game called club ball, a game where a ball or a round object would be hit by a stick or a club. The development of the simple club ball to the complex game of cricket is unknown.

The first record of cricket as we know it was played by children of farmers in Weald, southeast England in the 16th century.

16th century cricket
Illustration of English cricket in the 16th century. Image Credit: ICC

Adults first played the sport in the early 17th century and from there the game developed into a more structured one, starting with the concept of village cricket where teams would be formed to play the game. By the 17th century, it became popular among the locals and cricket enthusiasts would even skip Sunday church for a game.

Cricket was played by the British royalty and the upper classes too. However, their manner of playing was more sophisticated. This is why it is also known as a gentleman’s game.

Soon, cricket became a medium through which people belonging to the lower societal classes were taught how to be gentlemen.

Cricket reached the English colonies around the world between the 17th and 19th century through British merchants turned colonists. It was during this period that it reached India.

In the 18th century, the English in the area started building settlements in the port areas, paving the way for them to go back to their home countries by sea.

 

1721: One of the British ships stopped at the west coast of India. There, the sailors would play cricket to entertain themselves in their free time. The local bystanders noticed this new type of game and were immediately fascinated by it.

1751: The first recorded match in India was between the British army and the English inhabitants in India.

1792:  Inauguration of the Calcutta Cricket Club by the British, making it the second oldest cricket club after the Marylebone Cricket Club in England.

1848: The first Indian team was created in present-day Mumbai when the Parsi community established the Oriental Cricket Club. This team inspired the formation of other local teams, thus expressing India’s interest in cricket. These teams would play locally and were even invited to play in the United Kingdom.

The 1870s: Educated Bengalis would play it and make it known to other Indians. Within a decade, Indians would play cricket matches across the country. With more of their presence in the following centuries, the British would teach cricket in Indian schools.

1932: India played its first test match, competing against England in the iconic Lords cricket stadium in London.

1947: Many Indians believed cricket would disappear along with the British in India after its independence. However, the game has continued to gain more and more popularity since then. People from different social strata began to participate in the games and it eventually became a part of the Indian identity and culture.

The 1970s: The Women’s Cricket Association was established in 1973 and they played their first test match against West Indies in 1976 in Bangalore. And, their first One Day International in 1978 in Kolkata.

The 1990s: With the advent of satellite TV and an increasing participation and interest rate, the sport’s popularity accelerated.

2006: Women’s team played their first T20 in 2006 in Derby, England. This is also the year when the Women’s Cricket Association was absorbed into the BCCI.

The Popularity of Cricket in India

There are multiple factors contributing to the popularity of cricket in India. The following mention a few of them:

  • When in the early 1900s Sir Ranjitsinhji, ruler of one of the Indian princely states, began playing for the English cricket team. People in his country truly celebrated his participation.
  • India’s achievements in the 1970s, with them defeating the West Indies and the English team, were recognized all over the world.
  • India won the one-day international world cup in 1983 and 2011, historic events for India.
Team India holding the Cricket World Cup trophy in 1983
Team India holding the Cricket World Cup trophy in 1983. Image Credit: The Bridge
  • Radio and the liberalization of the TV industry in the 90s reached a bigger audience which not only included existing cricket fans but attracted men, women and children who weren’t familiar with the game to take interest.
  • Bollywood movies such as Lagaan mixed cricket and the anti-colonial sentiment to create a feeling of nationalistic pride. Click here to read the plot of the movie.
    lagaan poster
    Poster for the movie Lagaan 2001. Image Credit: IMDb

     

  • The BCCI has sufficient financial resources and well managed to promote cricket in India.
  • The advent of IPL or the Indian Premier League, one of the largest sporting events in the world, is hosted in India. The IPL is discussed in detail later on in the post. Keep reading.
  • Though the rules are complex for anyone not familiar with cricket, the nature of the game is simple. Simple in the sense that only a bat and a ball are required to play the game and it can be played anywhere, even in small spaces.

The Indian Premier League

The Indian Premier League (IPL) is an annual T20 style cricket event that was created by the BCCI in 2008 inspired by the American National Basketball Association (NBA). This event is organized between March and May.

The shorter T20 style and the concept of showing support to the team of your choice based on Indian cities became an instant hit among Indians. It attracted an even larger audience and, in many cases, even turned non-fans into fans.

It employs a franchise-based system where both domestic and international players are auctioned off to 8 city-based franchises owned by business people and celebrities. Each team has a budget of nearly $11 million to recruit players, making it one of the most well-funded sports events on the planet.  At the auction, the players are bid based on their skill, international cricket performance, history of injury, rapport with the assigned coach among other factors.

ipl auction
IPL Auction. Image Credit: Indian Express

As of 2020, the BCCI earned approximately $540 million from the event alone. Showing that even a global pandemic couldn’t hamper the interest of cricket in India.

kkr team
One of the IPL teams, Kolkata Knight Riders with the IPL trophy as champions in 2014. Image Credit: Sports Keeda

IPL is viewed all over the world, as even international players participate in the games. It is considered the best domestic cricket league and has seriously influenced the way fans and players experience T20 cricket experience.

Cricket Culture in India

Cricket is frequently known as India’s unofficial religion. It is quite literally worshipped by some in the country.

Everyone enjoys cricket in India, regardless of age, gender, religion, and social class, and they’re always watching it. Their lives revolve around cricket.

Note: The intention here is not to stereotype Indians or their behaviour. These observations only apply to the die-hard cricket fans in India.

Indians even schedule their days based on the match schedules. During the World Cup, people call in sick from work to watch the match. Some companies arrange projectors and screens for the office to watch matches, so they don’t skip work. Some even take leaves and arrange holidays based on the match schedules.

People purchase tickets well in advance to get the best seat at the stadium. And, if, for some reason, they can’t physically be present at the stadium, there’s always the television at home.

Kids get even more distracted than usual during important matches and will sneakily watch cricket matches instead of doing their homework.

Homemakers finish their chores early to watch cricket matches. People leave their dishes in the sink and even forgo making meals for the sake of watching cricket. They will order takeaway food instead.

In the more rural parts of India, there are still households that don’t have their own TV. However, someone in the village or community will have at least one. So, everyone gathers in front of the communal TV and they watch the match together.

gathering
People gathered in front of a small communal TV to watch cricket in rural India. Image Credit: Boston.com

Their eyes are glued to the television screen and their ears, attentively listening to the commentary while their hands slowly grab snacks and hot, cold, or alcoholic beverages kept in front of them.

Occasional gasps and loud cheers follow once the batsmen hit the ball.

Interrupting their little viewing party will indeed be a big mistake.

Celebrations

Achievements by the Indian national team are celebrated like other religious festivals in India. People play the drums on the streets, dance, light fireworks and cheer carrying a cutout of the star players or, proudly waving the Indian flag.

 

celebrations
Indians celebrating India’s victories. Image Credit: ED Times

Gully Cricket 

Kids and even adults play it in the streets all the time, in the parks, in alleyways, in parking lots, in the corridor, in school and even in their bedrooms.
Gully cricket, an improvised form of the sport played on the streets, is the average Indian child’s sport of choice. In this game, the rules of cricket are not rigid and the equipment can be replaced with anything from twigs, to paper balls and even shoes.

gully cricket
Kids playing gully cricket on the streets of India. Here the rubber tyre improvises as the wicket stumps. Image Credit: The Sports Mirror

Endorsements

As mentioned earlier, cricketers playing in the men’s national team enjoy celebrity status. As such, they are featured on large billboards and TV commercials for all sorts of products, from construction material to mutual funds, to matrimonial sites, to apps. You name it.

Cricket is, in its truest sense, India’s national obsession.

Impact of Cricket on the Indian Youth

The popularity of the IPL, the broadcasting of women’s cricket on TV and other types of cricket matches are inspiring the Indian youth to increase their participation in not only cricket but, all types of sports.

However, compared to other sports, cricket has more coaching institutions in the country, attracting young talent from across the country and sustaining the quality of sport for the future. Even in gully cricket, the Indian teams have found exceptional talent in the field.

Lastly, if more young people take part in sports, they’ll stay physically and psychologically healthy. They could then carry India forward and perhaps transform the nation into a more developed one.

Here’s how:

Not only do achievements in sports make the citizens of a country proud, but it is also, in fact, an indicator of the progress and development of a country. It is often seen that the more developed countries perform better in sports as they are able to provide the necessary resources for their enrichment.

Sports hugely benefit physical and psychological well-being, which means, it is more likely that countries with a prominent sports culture are healthier. Good health equals a productive and capable population, therefore, influencing the growth of a nation.

Conclusion

Sports are not only played for fitness or providing entertainment but also as a means to earn a livelihood and develop important life skills such as strategy, teamwork. It also aids social interactions and fosters positive attitudes.

Sports allow different people and communities to come together and interact with each other. Therefore, putting aside each other’s differences and helping the world overcome social problems such as discrimination, ignorance, stereotypes.

In India, cricket is the only other thing that somewhat helps in uniting the diverse population, after tea. When India plays against other countries, Indians keep their differences aside, get together and support the team without thinking about the players’ cultural background.

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One thought on “Cricket: India’s Favorite Sport and Cultural Backbone

  1. Agreed, Cricket is the most celebrated festival in India. Especially on match day of India vs Pakistan or world cup finals, public holidays are declared in some region.

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