Friday, March 10, 2006

Its all in the game...

Being a cricket fan in these parts of the world doesnt get you much mileage. Cricket is a poor cousin to soccer- while soccer is a religion, cricket is a pastime sport. A bit sad, considering that this is its very home. A look around the world, and except in the subcontinent, the story is very much the same. The question is begging: why are there only 12 national cricket teams part of the ICC, as opposed to FIFA's 250? On a broader perspective, what makes a particular sport so popular that it is an universal religion? and relegates some other to permanent oblivion?

I turned to Malcom Gladwell's bestseller "The Tipping Point" for inspiration- the book in which he talks about how fashion trends and word-of-mouth spread in much the same way as an epidemic. But unfortunately Gladwell shuns away from applying his dear concept to sports, very surprising because Gladwell himself is a passionate sports enthusiast.

Surely it has to do with the game, and then also with the circumstances of its becoming popular. Cricket's long standing nemesis has obviously been its duration- most people dont like the idea of spending an entire day waiting for a result. In some way, it ties with the concept of "Instant gratification" that marketers tout nowadays- people want return on their time and money IMMEDIATELY. And wot the heck, 35% of all test matches have been a draw, so sometimes there isnt even a return! Cricket enthusiasts may argue that there is a lot of excitement even in a draw, but when you are looking at attracting new eyeballs, its not too good.

The decline of West Indies since their heady domination of the 70's has long being attributed to kids taking up basketball and baseball instead of cricket. Could then the answer be in the excitement that it provides to a player and spectator alike? I could theorize that football's status as a religion is because of the delirion that some moments provide to the spectator and a player. A solo goal can send a crowd into raptures. Most of the times, it prompts wild celebrations by the players themselves, with kissing and hugging and chest-baring not uncommon. Simply because one goal can decide a match. One penalty awarded dubiously can crush an entire nation's hopes. Cricket simply does not have those moments. Commentators' favourite line "You havent won until the last ball is bowled" is ironically cricket's undoing in a way- it implies that consistency rather than a momentary flash of brilliance is the key to victory.

But then basketball is also similar to cricket in that sense, and is a far more popular sport. Could there be other answers? Part of the excitement in soccer and other ball-games is probably due to the presence of all the players on the field, in the heat of the action. A team event versus a one-on-one duel is more exciting because it has the added ingredients of team-work and multiple points of action(there are more players you can look at, and chances of exchanges between players are more). Could it be that cricket being essentially a 11-on-1 game loses out on that count? More importantly, there is only one point of action- the ball. At any time, only 2/3 players are actually involved in the game- the rest, like us, as mere spectators, standing at their places.

A final point: its not so much about the game spreading to different countries as much as the quality of the game being very high in all countries it is played. In fact, in terms of spreading the game, cricket has surprisingly done well inspite of its obvious shortcomings- there are 74 affiliated national cricket federations in the world as opposed to soccer's 204. (Source: a bit unreliable, http://www.johann-sandra.com/popular.htm) The issue is rather that of these 74, only 8 are worthy of even participating in a world tournament. Compare that to football, where as many as 207 teams have made it to the World Cup finals! Is it that cricketing skills are difficult to impart? Or is it that though it has spread, it is yet to permeate at the grassroots level? Is it the lack of sporting models for youngsters to look up to? Any clues?

1 comment:

Jigar said...

"only 8 are worthy of even participating in a world tournament" maybe needs correcting now!