Chak De Cricket?
“Cricket” in India is not just a game. It’s a religion, the magic word that guarantees undivided attention of the entire nation. But what it’s not is India’s national game. That particular honour goes to hockey.
Hockey became India’s national game in 1928 and was played for the first time in the Olympics that year. The Indian men field hockey team is the most successful field hockey team in Olympic history with 8 gold, 1 silver, and 2 bronze medals. During its glory days, India virtually dominated the sport. The 1980’s scripted the decline of Indian hockey, and heralded the rise of Indian cricket as popular sport. In 1983 India won the Cricket World Cup and instantly its charm reverberated throughout the country.
Cricket is the most commercially successful sport in India. It changed over the years to keep up with the needs and interests of the audience. The five day gentleman’s game is now shortened to a 20-20 match that lasts only a few hours. Players get enormous rewards and sponsors are lining up trying to find the next Sachin Tendulker or M.S.Dhoni. Other sports in India are not given the necessary attention even when they bring laurels to the country, the recent treatment of Sania Mirza during the selection of the Olympic tennis team being just an example. But, hockey suffers more, even with the title of the national game it is pushed aside to make more room for the prodigal game of India, cricket.
Hockey is only the national game on India on paper, when it comes to percentage contribution of money, facilities and infrastructure. The game has not modernised, infrastructure has not bettered and the management is poor to say the least. It is sad that local cricket players get more monetary funds from their state governments than national hockey heroes. How many of us actually know the captain of the hockey team, but can rattle off the names of all the players in the Indian Premier League?
Hockey needs to get its act together. It needs to take a leaf out of cricket’s book and concentrate on more publicity and sponsors. The government needs to help the same passion for hockey that cricket inspires in many.
It is sad that once the pride of India, the Indian hockey team is now a thing of ridicule, always disappointing and only useful as fodder for bollywood movies. Because in the hearts of millions of Indians cricket is the national game of India.