|The Trajectory of Cricket as a Metaphor for National History
The recent developments in cricket – especially the wealth generated by it in the last decade and the corruption in the game reflecting the direction that India’s growth story has taken – tempts one to examine cricket as a metaphor for India after 1947. Cricket began in the colonial period with India’s royalty taking to the game first. Although the first captain was CK Nayudu, he was made captain on a tour of England in 1932 because both the captain (the Maharaja of Porbandar) and the vice-captain who was his brother-in-law were unable to play because they were injured or ill. CK Nayudu was subsequently succeeded by the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram who captained India against England in 1936. India’s next cricket captain was Iftiqar Ali Khan, the Nawab of Pataudi in 1946. The first non-aristocrat to captain India was Lala Amarnath, appropriately in 1947-8.
Lala Amarnath was Brahmin by birth and for several decades after independence, Indian cricket was dominated by Brahmins as the ruling elite itself was. Brahmins had served the British loyally in the bureaucracy and when they inherited the Nation from their colonial masters, cricket also passed into their hands from that of the former aristocracy. The Nehruvian period in Indian cricket continues for several decades after that – till around the time that Nehruvian policies began to lose their luster in Indian political space. If one were to put a date on the transformation of Indian cricket to a moneymaking sport one could say that it was after the Prudential Cup triumph of 1983. One day cricket had already become popular and introduced more chance into the game to create a level playing field but India had not yet sensed an opportunity in it. India’s victory at Lords was a surprise and it changed everything; it began to commercialize cricket although still hesitantly in the late 1980s and this finds some correspondence in Rajiv Gandhi’s cautious moves to open out the economy.
The real boom in Indian cricket begins with the opening out of television in the PV Narasimha Rao era and the next nine years in Indian cricket saw Mohammed Azaruddin as captain. This was the period in which both Indian businesses and cricket reaped rich harvests through their respective ‘growth stories’, with growth also accompanied by corruption and scandal. If Azaruddin quit with one of India’s first cricketing scandals, it pointed to uncontrolled commercialization of the sport likely to lead to the eventual moral decline of the game.
While it is always difficult to determine when something became ‘corrupted’, it is still possible to construct a narrative retrospectively to account for conditions in the present. One could, for instance, propose that the fillip given to enterprise after 1991-92, the loosening of controls without a tightening of enforcement led to the private sector taking advantage of the existing laxities in enforcement to systematically subvert the functioning of the state to enrich itself. Regarding enforcement as a ‘hindrance to growth’ has become such an entrenched view that the government blames the CAG for the failure of its 4G auction – which is akin to an enterprise blaming its auditors for its business failures. India’s growth story generated huge revenues for the state but there has been so much wastage in the money allotted to various schemes that India has not improved in its development indicators although some of the richest people in the world are Indians. As cricket became more and more lucrative, the money went only to enrich the players and the BCCI but Indian sport as a whole has not benefited.
India has not made much of a mark in the business world and the Indian IT industry, eulogized in the 1990s has emerged as a hub of low-end work. Indian businesses which are globally successful have relied on the lower wage levels in India and the low cost of living to be globally competitive and few of their products have received global recognition. India’s successes in cricket have happened when cricket itself is losing ground internationally. The successes of Indian cricket and business are local phenomena owing to local conditions and celebrated only locally. If Indian businesses have been globally competitive because of the low cost of living brought about by persisting large scale poverty, Indian cricket has been successful only because of India’s growth story and the creation of wealth in some pockets within India. Both have brought untold wealth to India’s ‘players’ without India itself making a mark internationally.
The arrival of the IPL has enriched a few vested interests but has weakened Indian cricket considerably with the game reduced to less than a national preoccupation. The betting scandals in the IPL have had the effect of exposing it for what it has been for a while – show business kept alive by paid-for publicity. The recent Champion’s Trophy victory has had a muted response within the country. Cricket was one of the last emblems of the Nation in Indian sport and that is also on its way out; still, we are unsure whether it signifies the approaching end of Indian cricket or the dissolution of the Nation – so close together are the two in their trajectories