FRAGRANCE OF IDEAS
Finally, the Cricket World Cup 2023 is successfully over and Australia is the new Champion of the ODI Cricket for the sixth time, congratulations Australia! Congratulations are also due to India for playing a great tournament throughout sans the final match. ICC and BCCI deserve full kudos for the two-month long extravaganza with such a huge success in content that brought around $3 Billion to their kitty besides the well deserved laurels to the game of cricket.
Historically speaking, India was always a sporting society. Description of sporting activities in our ancient literature, art, architecture, tradition and folklore bears a testimony of this historical fact. Then came a dark period of time in our history around one thousand years back when the barbaric foreign invaders invaded India and made all attempts to destroy the socio-cultural-political fabric of India. Since the impact of their invasion and barbaric rule was over-emphasizing in character, consequently sports in the country also became a victim of their tragic colonization. However, there are instances to suggest that even in this period of struggle, though sports couldn't take the centre stage at the national level yet the traditional sports were in vogue at the regional levels throughout the length and breadth of the country.
For the first time in the 20th century, a few athletes in the country during the period of British rule took initiatives to represent India at an international level. India first participated at the Olympic Games in 1900, with a lone athlete Norman Pritchard winning two medals –both silver– in athletics and became the first Asian nation to win an Olympic medal. The nation first sent a team to the Summer Olympic Games in 1920 and participated in every Summer Games since then.
With the passage of time, these initial attempts were mainly limited to two major sporting events only i.e. Hockey and Cricket. The traditional games like Wrestling, Archery, Kabbadi and Rowing were the main attractions at the local and regional levels but we remained out of international exposure in these events initially due to our paucity of resources, infrastructure and access. However, India was the first non-European team to be a part of the International Hockey Federation. Since cricket was not a part of the Olympic games, there needed to be some special efforts to make an impact in this arena.
Some daring early efforts in the beginning of the 20th century fructified ultimately during the 1930s when India played its first cricket test match in 1932 at Lords cricket ground in England. In the new and modern context, the decade of 1930s brought both Hockey and Cricket to the lime light and India started to get recognition at an international level. In 1928, the Indian Hockey team won its first Olympic gold medal and until 1960, the Indian men's team remained unbeaten in the Olympics, winning six gold medals in a row. It is thus called the golden era of Indian Hockey and Major Dhyan Chand became an icon of this era in the game of Hockey at a global level.
The second generation of Hockey players in India kept the flag flying and consequently made India the world champion in 1974 by defeating Pakistan in the finals. They continued their march ahead but these great efforts came to a virtual end in the Asian Games 1982 Hockey finals when India was defeated by Pakistan very badly. Thereafter, Hockey in India has been riding the roller-coaster for all these decades. The silver lining is that the current generation of Hockey players have proven themselves yet again and have been able to win bronze medal in the last Tokyo Olympics and the gold medal in the recently held Asian Games 2023 in China. This is indeed the beginning of a new hope for Hockey in India again.
The journey of cricket in India has already crossed three phases of its journey and is currently in the fourth phase of its history. The journey that started in 1932 gave a humble start to the soft progression of the game during the period from 1930s to 1960s. This was an era that focussed mainly on "playing the game of cricket" without having any special emphasis on winning or losing the game. Though this era gave birth to some great senior players in the post-independence period of the country yet our winning streak didn't make any notable mark. The great icons of this era were Lala Amarnath, Vijay Merchant and Vijay Hazare etc.
It was around 1965 that Indian cricket started entering into its second phase of journey and this era can be catagorised as the phase of "playing good cricket". This phase focussed on winning games and even achieved winning targets of around 25%. This phase lasted for around twenty five years up to 1990. It was during this phase that India started winning tests and test series abroad. Then ODI World Cup of 1983 in England and Champion of Champions Trophy tournament in Australia in 1985 brought great glory to Indian cricket in this era. The living cricket legends like Sunil Gavasker and Kapil Dev are the biggest representatives of this phase of the Indian Cricket.
Around 1990, the Indian cricket moved ahead to its third phase, the phase of "playing better cricket". This phase raised Indian cricket to a new and different level where Indian cricket dared to openly advocate for 50% winning goals. A glaxy of modern day cricketers was introduced to the world by India who got recognition as the brand ambassadors of both India and Cricket in the world. Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly are the most appropriate two icons of this phase who by their great contribution, attitude and leadership guided the Indian cricket to the next level. It is this era that saw Cricket emerging as one of the best softpower of India at a global level. This era saw India achieving its goals of winning 50% of the total games. It is this era that gave birth also to IPL and the dominance of BCCI at an international level.
With the conclusion of the third phase around 2015, the fourth phase, the current one, of Indian Cricket began and it can be called the phase of "playing best cricket". Top Cricket icon M S Dhoni is the greatest link between the two latest phases of cricket. The transition from "playing better cricket" to "playing best cricket" witnessed two current greats of Indian cricket leading this top phase of Indian cricket, namely, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma. The greatest achievement of this current fourth phase of Indian Cricket is that the success rate of matches played by India went to a staggering level of 75%, which by any standards is not only huge but also path breaking and historic. The results of the recently held Cricket Asia Cup, Asian Games Cricket and ODI CWC2023 are the menifestations of all those efforts put together that has put India on the top of the world in its most cherished and famous game of cricket. This phase also witnessed cricket being included in the Olympic Games with effect from 2028 Olympics, courtesy: the contribution of India to the game of global cricket and the iconic leadership of Virat Kohli as a successful ambassador of the game.
While acquiring so much of glory in the games like Hockey and Cricket (both men and women), all other games and sports got overshadowed and ignored for a long time in India. Though the first Asian games were held in New Delhi in 1952 yet India lagged behind miles away in general till one more organization of Asian Games in New Delhi took place in 1982. With effect from 1982, all other main sporting events like track and field, wresting, shooting, archery, weight lifting, boxing, badminton and various forms of tennis attracted a large number of athletes to their fold. They excelled at home and abroad but couldn't ignite the required fire to convert India into a sporting nation due to a large amount of apathy by the government and the sporting bodies. The lack of a strong sports policy and infrastructure was duly taken care of eventually, and it started showing results with the turn of the 21st century and consequently a few athletes in wresting, shooting, boxing, badminton and weight-lifting excelled in the international events and even started winning medals in the Olympic Games. Abhinav Bindra, Mary Com and Rajya Vardhan Singh Rathore are the best symbols of this transition.
The Commonwealth Games held in Delhi in the year 2010 also gave the required fillip to the emerging positive environment for promotion of sports in India. The change of government at the centre in 2014 brought a huge change in the sports policy of the nation as well and the results are there for anyone to see in this regard. For the first time in the Olympic games in Tokyo followed by Asian Games in Hangzhou in China, Indian athletes won more than the expected medals and created a new history. While seven medals, including one gold by Neeraj Chopra in the Javaline-throw, were achieved in the Tokyo Olympic games, 108 medals, including 28 gold, were won in the Hongzhou Asian games by India. This has indeed set the stage set for India to think and act in terms of becoming a truly sports nation with patriotism at the centre of the discourse.
While India aspires to become a permanent member of the Security Council of the UN with a big global support, it is imperative for India to show up also in the sporting events as it has shown up in the fields of science and technology, space science, economy, information technology, cultural pursuits and geopolitics. Now India can't afford to lag behind in the field of sports given its status and position at an international level. We need to improve enormously in the track and field events -which are the backbone of the sporting activity, swimming, water sports, gymnastics, football and lawn tennis. These events bring huge medals, glory and consequent following at an international level. Unless India takes major steps in this regard at the highest level, results are remotely achievable.
It would be the greatest opportunity for India to bid for 2036 Olympics, as was declared recently by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi in the International Olympic Association meeting in Mumbai recently. India surely can afford to go for this big occasion in the given circumstances. It will put India on the path of conversion into a full-fledged sporting nation in real sense. It will also help the Indian state to transform the mind-set of the nation to gear up for a renewed zeal to achieve the unachievable in the field of international sports. It will surely place India on a high pedestal of positive energy among its youth to create a new history in the field of sports and allied activity incidental to it that will ultimately bring excellence, glory, prosperity, pride and happiness to the nation and the society.
Last but not the least, in the words of football legend and former England Captain David Beckham, who was in India watching the Cricket World Cup live for the first time, "When India progresses, the world progresses", lies the all important message for all of us......!
(The author is a senior BJP & KP leader, author and columnist and can be reached at email@example.com)