Like all Indians, I was elated to see India win the Cricket World Cup in Mumbai. I caught up with the final moments of the match on a terribly slow and scrambled live stream on the internet. Writing from a serene evening here in England, where it won the cup for the first time at Lords 28 years ago, I can well imagine the euphoria and the celebrations that must be sweeping across In
Ever since India first won the world cup in 1983, cricket in India assumed a quasi-religious status. Like most members of India’s winning squad, a vast majority of India’s massive young population were not even born when it first lifted the world cup. However, they grew up in an era, where cricket became the heart and soul of India’s public consciousness, serving as a unifying force in a vast and culturally diverse country. It is in cricket that ordinary Indians from different regions and backgrounds find a common language and also respite from the hardships of daily life.
Cricket’s rise as the most popular sport in India was also propelled by the economic forces. As India liberalised its economy in the early 1990s, the inflow of multinationals were quick to cash in on cricket by promoting a culture of endorsements. Soon cricketers became glamorous figures, equated with or even considered taller than Bollywood stars, endorsing almost every product. The brilliant advertisements involving cricketers that littered the then India’s evolving satellite media landscape appealed to the masses, and to become a cricketer became a dream of every child.
In many ways, cricket in India is a symbol of the country’s emergence as an economic power. It metaphorically reflects India’s growing wealth. The multi – billion dollar Indian Premier League is an example of that. During this period, India also produced the greatest batsman in the history of the game, Sachin Tendulkar. One reason why this tournament meant so much to Indians is because everyone wanted to see India lift the cup while Tendulkar was presumably playing his last world cup. Sachin Tendulkar in India is almost a mythical figure, who not only entertains the fans with the willow, but in a country that is often beleaguered by high level scandals and corruption, he serves as an inspirational role model for millions for exemplifying exceptional humility and integrity in public life.
The cricket saga in India will continue for years to come, but it is difficult to predict if it will be characterised by the same hysteria. This victory for India goes beyond the boundaries of sport. For the last two decades, cricket with all its glitz and glamour became almost a pulsating force of the nation, so much so that the national passion for the game and the expectations from its team to win another world cup almost reached a tipping point. This is the first major international tournament India has won in a generation, and for Indians it is a matter of immense pride. The triumph is a momentous occasion, but it could also be the beginning of a new era of renewed confidence of a young and fast growing nation determined to be a force to be reckon with in the 21st century.
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