Cricket, the Destroyer

Cricket, the Destroyer

February 09, 2003

Cricket fever has once more gripped India. This time for the World Cup. It is said nothing unites India more than cricket: youngsters can be seen practising on a makeshift pitch from the gullies of Srinagar to the fields of Tamil Nadu and during an India-Pakistan match, passions run high. It is even said 'cricket diplomacy' could help thaw the frost between New Delhi and Islamabad, as table tennis contributed in the seventies to break the ice between China and the US -- yesterday's enemies, today's friends.

Yet, both India and Pakistan should consider this: cricket is a colonial game, a leftover of the British Empire. Cricket was played in the 19th century by rich, idle maharajas and upper class Indians, who wanted to look more British than the British and aped the English in whatever they did, whether it was hunting tigers, owning a Rolls Royce, or playing the 'gentleman's game.'

It was never a sport for the masses. It is a pity that after Independence, both the governments of India and Pakistan encouraged cricket. This South Asian obsession with cricket has had catastrophic consequences on the national psyche of these countries.

Cricket is a game meant to be played in British conditions. In cool weather on green English meadows, with a few spectators shouting 'jolly good' from time to time while sipping lemonade. It is not a sport for a tropical country, where players have to stand for hours under the blistering sun.

There is unfortunately a conspiracy between the Government of India and the big business corporations to inflate the importance of cricket because they make so much money out of it. The amount spent by multinationals and national companies, for instance, on the pre-publicity for the present cricket World Cup is nothing short of shameful in a country where basic necessities such as drinking water are badly lacking.

It should also be said that Doordarshan, a television channel that even today has not been able to put its act together, has to bear a greater part of the responsibility for this sad state of affairs. They are the ones who set-up the whole trend, cashed the dollars, while not caring to use the money to upgrade their performance.

It is equally disgraceful players, however talented they are, endorse any product, from soft drinks to cars, from electronics to foreign credit cards. As sportsmen of international standing, they should show some sense of balance in the choice of products they associate their image with. Crores of rupees are spent on artificial, tasteless ads for Coca-Cola and Pepsi that not only incarnate American imperialism but also lead to obesity and chemical imbalance in the body. If only the profits of multinationals would benefit poor Indians, but they mostly go in the pockets of American multinationals and a few rich Indians.

Cricket stifles all other sports. Because of the sponsorship and advertisement solely focused on cricket, much more deserving and physically harder sports, such as track and field are neglected and other athletes get very little sponsorship and media attention. As a direct result, India's world position in sports, considering that there are a billion Indians, is abysmal and nothing short of disgraceful.

Instead of concentrating on cricket and hiring foreign coaches, the Indian government could do well to use India's greatest gifts to the world: hata-yoga, pranayama and meditation for the development, stamina and concentration of its sportsmen. With a little rigour, discipline and training techniques borrowed from the West, India would quickly produce outstanding athletes of world caliber in all disciplines.

It is also high time that sports be taken off the hands of politicians and bureaucrats, who have shamelessly exploited it for selfish purposes and left it in the mire it is now.

But as usual, we see that even the present government, supposedly 'Hindu,' is more interested in aping the West, including cricket, at the expense of traditional Indian sports such a Kalaripayat, which gave birth to Kung-fu and Karate and is still widely practiced in the villages of Kerala.

At a time where millions of Westerners practice meditation, when multinationals have included pranayama and hata-yoga for relaxation seminars, when many Western sportsmen use pranayama and meditation for improving performance, it is ironic and tragic that these disciplines are not taught in Indian schools, except in the Art of Living-run schools and institutes.

If they were, India would quickly produce children who will not only be rooted in their own culture, but would naturally excel in sports. But, of course, if such a move was initiated in India's education system, there would be an outcry from India's secular Hindu intelligentsia and from the Christian and Muslim minority that sports and education were being saffronised.

Saffronised? Does breath have a religion? Is not meditating on one's thoughts or watching one's respiration, something that can be practiced by anybody -- Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian? And would it not help in improving the performance of a Muslim cricketer, a Hindu high jumper, a Buddhist swimmer, or a Christian tennis woman?

Pranayama and meditation would certainly do South Asian cricketers (a few Indian cricketers have done the Art of Living basic course) a lot of good, because often many of them are spoilt brats, flying first class, staying in palaces and getting millions of rupees from endorsements.

If only Indian cricketers would win!

It is high time the Indian government enforces a limitation on the number of international cricket matches played abroad and starts focusing a little more on other sports. India lags 30 years behind China and 50 years behind the West in most sports.

Shame on you cricket, the destroyer.



Francois Gautier

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