If we were to take a random sample of Indians on the street and ask them if they loved cricket, my guess would be that most answers would be an affirmative.
Most people around the world seem to think so too, us Indians are portrayed as being madly in love with the sport, thinking of it as a religion on its own and the stars being idolised as gods. It all points to the fact the Indians truly love cricket.
But then when I think about something I truly love, I would try and know it inside out, back and front. I would try and do anything to have something to do with it personally on a weekly. If not then on a day to day basis.
But that's not the case with most of the people and cricket in India.
The so-called lovers of the game would barely once go to a game and watch it live at the grounds in a year. Most would never have anything to do with the domestic game in the country at all.
Compare this to say Brazilians and their love for football. Not only do they follow their international stars they also religiously follow the domestic game, week in week out, packing stadiums to the full.
So is the love for the game in India truly deep and passionate? Or are we just fickle and superficial?
I know many of us are truly crazy about cricket and follow all the nuances of it, so it would be wrong of me to generalise like that, as each individual has a personal relationship with the game. But there is a general pattern of love and following of the game in the country that is hard to ignore.
My understanding is , if one really, really, really loves the game, then watching it on television as most of do just won't cut it. The need to get up close and personal with the game would drive one to the ground to watch it or play it at least, as being on the ground is just something special.
I truly admire people that watch cricket in India—especially domestic cricket in India, the stadiums are usually very uncomfortable and sometimes even torturous. The scorching sun burns the skin as most domestic stadiums are uncovered, sitting on stone and concrete slabs all day isn't a lot of fun, and on days when the cricket game doesn't go the way of the team one follows, it can be really hard to come back and do it ever again. But this is a dying breed of people.
What cricket is in India is a tradition as opposed to love of the game. As a nation apart from hockey we didn't excel at any other sport as such and we couldn't point at anything else and feel proud. Cricket was another sport we didn't get humiliated at and therefore since our Independence we have identified with it as a nation.
What further heightened this tradition of identifying with cricket as a tradition is the gradual decline in our hockey performances coinciding with the World Cup win in '83. Around this time in India there wasn't much in terms of entertainment for the average Indian. There was Bollywood (Indian movies) and then cricket. Cricket for many seemed the obvious choice as it lasted longer, and probably cost the same as a movie ticket and again the sense of tradition that came with it.
These days I believe most Indians love "cricket the entertainment", its association with movie stars (SRK, Preity Zinta et al), the cricketers themselves, and the glamour quotient of it all is what interests most people. Following of cricket by these groups of people is what allows the likes of Mandira Bedi to comment on cricket, the mere thought of which would make a purist cringe. These are the groups that are driving the T-20 forward as all they care about is fast paced action, drama, the eye candy and the celebrities.
While the T.V. ratings and viewership increases in India, I fear the breed of Indians who love cricket for what it is, who love "cricket for the sport" it is, is a dying one.
People residing in the big Indian cities such as Mumbai and Kolkata now have a lot of options when it comes choice of recreation and sport, cricket isn't the be all and end all, the result of which is fewer and fewer players from these big cities representing the Indian team, while we see more players coming through from smaller towns into the Indian team as here cricket still is the favourite pass time.
I wonder as and when these smaller towns have more exposure to other sports and recreations and internet, what will become of our nation's so called undying love for cricket?
Or is it really LOVE to begin with?