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Big, bigger, baddest: What the win did for Indian cricket
Vivian Richards had just been dismissed and late in the evening in India, there were little seedlings of hope were sprouting all around when the telecast was stopped. It was Doordarshan time, National news time, but no one complained. That was the truth of the day and the whole nation switched to their radio sets, to follow the crumbling of the West Indian middle-order in the chase of a paltry-looking 183. By time the 1983 World Cup final was back live on TV, India were almost on the doorstep something momentous, something life-altering. Jeffrey Dujon and Malcolm Marshall were fighting a bleak, final battle for the suddenly minnow-like West Indies. Their resistance didn't last long and India celebrated for an evening, taking a break from the simmering tension of the Khalistan issue that dominated the headlines those days.
Flash forward. May 25, 2012: Will N Srinivasan go? What's he doing in Kolkata with the BCCI bosses? The TV channels were at their shrillest, when suddenly a running scroll announced that the entire Congress leadership in Chattisgarh had been wiped out in a Maoist attack. The images of a bloodied VC Shukla started coming in, but the national media didn't have too much time to waste on that. Srinivasan, after all, was selling more and even the newspapers next day just about managed to find a corner on their front pages for the terror attack. Not surprisingly, Srinivasan's dinner diplomacy at Dalmiya's residence took up the rest of the space.
If one has to talk of the changes in the way cricket has been followed in India over the last 30 years, these two incidents should sum things up. From being a pleasurable pastime, cricket has become a national obsession, a monster that is out to engulf every other sport in the country. When 1983 happened, India didn't have an Olympic medal winner in an individual sport. Today, we have quite a few. But does anybody really care how shooting silver medallist Vijay Kumar is preparing for the next Olympics? The answer is a big 'No', while a probable starting XI for the next World Cup cricket in 2015, is pretty much common knowledge.
But the change in public perception about cricket has different factors attached to it. The 1983 World Cup win coincided with the television boom in the country and many believe that had had India not lost 1-7 to Pakistan in the 1982 Asian Games final, hockey wouldn't have taken the beating that it did to cricket.
Through the 1980s, the game rapidly entered the kitchens of the Indian households with housewives evincing interest in the game like never before. The Benson and Hedges Cup win in 1985 with Ravi Shastri driving away the Audi truly made India the new superpower of cricket.
It was this new Indian wave that the BCCI administrators at that point of time banked on to get the 1987 World Cup to India. Jagmohan Dalmiya, as an administrator, made his mark on the world stage and pulled the strings. Reliance, too, took its first step into the cricket industry and the tournament went on to become a huge success.
India didn't win that World Cup and it turned out to be Sunil Gavaskar's swansong. Despite Kapil Dev's charisma and raw talent, Sunny was the undisputed king of Indian cricket for two decades, and his departure created a sense of void, albeit for a brief while. The biggest booster shot came in a small package of five-and-a-half feet in the winter of 1989. Sachin Tendulkar's arrival coincided with the economic liberalization of the early 1990s and corporates started pouring in money.
The number of ODI tournaments in the subcontinent started going through the roof in the 1990s, and all of it seemed centred around the Sachin phenomenon. Even though Mohd Azharuddin was the captain, the masses believed in one brand, Sachin Tendulkar, and every Pepsi or Coca Cola Cup had India in it.
It was around this time that the BCCI started becoming the all-powerful body in the game. The revenue that Indian cricket was generating couldn't be ignored and the Tendulkar effect added spice to the tale. Not that India was winning everything, but it was important to have Tendulkar and India play in every ODI tournament. While there was a tournament in Sharjah every six months, bilateral events like Sahara Cup in Toronto started coming up featuring India and Pakistan. The India-Pakistan rivalry upstaged the Ashes to become the biggest cash-cow of world cricket and even though the Indians couldn't beat their arch-rivals on a regular basis, the interest was unbelievable.
The nation spent sleepless nights, following the two nations playing in Toronto, and it came as a rude shock when all these games came under the scanner with matchfixing clouds starting to loom in the horizon during the turn of the century. The names that came up included those of Salim Malik (an Indo-Pak hero), Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja (the man who showed the world that Waqar Younis could be hit at the death), and what was even more surprising was that ICC president Jagmohan Dalmiya didn't have a clue about it. He got the 1996 World Cup to India, but Azhar's decision to field on a minefield of a pitch at Eden Gardens in the semifinal went unquestioned.
In three years' time, all these games came under the fixing scanner, but one only felt surprised that the Board which was privy to every information on planet cricket, didn't know anything about it. Between 1996-99, among other things, the all-powerful BCCI lobby at the ICC legalized chucking, just to maintain Asian solidarity.
Shoaib Akhtar and Muttiah Muralitharan were the two of the biggest names of subcontinent cricket at that point of time and Dalmiya ensured that both were allowed to play international cricket despite seriously faulty actions. Bangladesh, too, was given Test status, and the India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka group since then has formed the most powerful block in the ICC.
The BCCI was clearly the big bully of international cricket, but the Indian team of early 2000s too went a long way in making Indian cricket the most saleable product in the market.
Under Sourav Ganguly, India started winning abroad, with the likes of Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag playing some inspiring cricket. There were a few questions asked when India were offered batting beauties and didn't have to play a single Test match at Perth during their tour of Australia in 2003-04, which finished 1-1, but the popular notion was that Ganguly's boys were playing really well. The biggest impetus to the economics of Indian cricket came in the form of the T20 World Cup triumph in 2007. From being pyjama cricket, T20 became the most commercially viable product and BCCI was right on the money, launching the Indian Premier League.
From being a bully in administration, BCCI started controlling players across the globe. Top players preferred to become freelancers just to be part of the IPL, and BCCI went to the extent of changing international fixtures so that big boys were available for the midsummer madness. This year, Sri Lankan players were banned from playing in Chennai and there was a public outcry in Lanka to stop the players from participating in the tournament. But the likes of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara made it clear to their board that nothing could stop them from playing the IPL.
But when it comes to reciprocating the favour, the BCCI is very clear. They want the exclusivity of the IPL to remain and that's why no Indian player is allowed in any of the T20 leagues across the world. Even as all the stars go Down Under to play the Big Bash, the Indian players are kept away from it. Even the fringe players, who are not even close to the India XI, are asked to stay away and thus the golden goose of Indian cricket maintains its top position.
The fixing scandal in IPL this year has taken its toll, but the Board mandarins know that the storm will pass. Four fringe players and two team owners will be banned, the probe panel, chosen by the BCCI president, will look into the fixing claims and give a clean chit to the boss, and the circus will be back again next summer, tom-toming the glories of the Indian cricket juggernaut.
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