My Father in Law died last Sunday in India but Covid19 meant that it was impossible to fly there and even if we did manage to get to India we would have to be quarantined for up to two weeks in the first port of entry then possibly a further two weeks in the state where they live and irrespective of the above two quarantine measures we will be put in quarantine for two further weeks at the panchayat (village) level. All we wanted to do was see him for the last time before he was buried. Nothing else mattered but each passing hour made the possibility of travel fade into darkness. Death has this strange ability to make people react differently to the same event. I realised that it was the small things in life that mattered but I was also curious as to why the number of Covid19 cases in India is starting to shoot up when India is being so heavy-handed in what they are doing. The “village” where my in-laws live is nearly as populous as Borehamwood & Elstree. I can understand a quarantine at the first port of entry but everything else after that seems a step too much.
This in many ways is a close reflection of the health of cricket in England and Wales today. Different people have different views on what is to be done. Covid19 has given English Cricket another year to think about its future. I do not believe in forecasts or projections and this is why I believe that what will happen even before the grassroots level will be what grows the game. Playing conditions does not matter as much as people make of it although the proposed changes to the BBL is something to be considered. The ECB should be thinking about how to make children and families play the game and not how to attract them to watch the game. Watching the game should be a byproduct of playing the game and not the other way round. The issue is not how to get a new demographic through the gates of grounds or watch it on TV but how can you get children to play the game as soon as they are able to hold a bat or throw a ball and getting their parents to play and watch the game.
Cricket in India should be a case study and example of how a game should be grown. In India cricket is not restricted to playing in schools or at academies. It is played on the streets and gullies of India. Economic, social and religious backgrounds disappear as soon as a bat and a ball comes into view no matter what the state of them was. Cricket is popular in India because it is played in the streets and gullies of India. It is played on rooftops and across streets. A Coca-Cola spokesperson in India once said “Our primary competition isn’t Pepsi. Our real competition is water, tea, nimbupani and Pepsi… in that order.” Nimbupani is essentially a very crude form of lemonade where carbonated water/club soda is mixed with lemon juice and sugar or salt. This may not be the best analogy to use during these times of obesity but if cricket is Coca-Cola then what is it’s water and how can we get everyone start drinking Coca-Cola instead of water? Are we looking only at Pepsi which probably will be a more expensive battle and product? There cannot be one single nuclear option which may succeed but will create a toxic environment elsewhere.
Winning the World Cup in 1983 changed everything in Indian cricket. India had finally formed a side that was capable of winning games at an international level. This sadly coincided with the decline of field hockey. People were flocking to cricket because they were winning and then came Sachin Tendulkar who all but sealed cricket as the most popular game in India. Cricket in India had successfully come ahead of field hockey and Kabbadi. 2008 saw the birth of IPL and that took things in a different direction all together because it was organised as a business. Conglomerates had to bid for teams and the cities. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag were made icon players because they had the ability to pull the support of local fans to their city as they were local people but more importantly was the fact that those stars played in the IPL. Today Dhoni is more closely associated with Chennai than he is with Jharkand which is his home state. Similarly, Kohli is linked to Bangalore and not Delhi. Switching teams have become a common practice but the one thing that has not changed is that India does not play any other cricket during the IPL window and all players that represent India will most probably feature in the starting XI for the team they represent. For the duration of the IPL, all hostility, as well as camaraderie, is put aside. Everybody are rivals and the teams were cleverly chosen to enhance this rivalry. Competition has been the reason why the IPL has thrived. This started from the bidding of teams to the auctioning of players to vying for viewership. Costs do matter and play a role but the price of cable TV is controlled in India. Cable companies cannot charge more than Rs. 130 plus taxes for 200 channels per month and a maximum of Rs.25 for additional 20 channels for a package of channels . That comes to a monthly subscription of less than £2 a month!! The cheapest monthly subscription in the U.K. which has cricket that I have seen is for about £33 that is before including TV license which in my opinion is a huge scam. Let’s get this out of the way. Watching sports in the U.K. is expensive and without a doubt has contributed to the decline of cricket followers in this country. Having certain games Free to Air is not the answer and I fear that even the brilliant Isa Guha will not be good enough to raise the popularity of the game. People will watch the games only if they are interesting and it is, for this reason, the Ashes both home and away must be added to the Crown Jewel list.
At the end of the day, cricket is not about getting people to solely watch the sport. It is about making people play the sport. My wife and I have not been blessed with a child but I do wish we had one so that I could talk to my child about cricket and play cricket with them. Cricket is being part of a family and the sooner the wise men that sit on various boards see that it is all about the little memories the sooner we will see a great revival in this country.