The true cricketing wealth of a nation
India, we are told, is the world's richest cricketing nation. I presume the wealth in question has something to do with its "burgeoning middle-class", the IPL, and something called TRPs. But what of the cricketing wealth in India? How does the Indian balance-sheet stack up on that account?
Years ago, when comparisons between "blue-collar Bankstown boy" Steve Waugh, and "Maharajah Snooty" Sourav Ganguly were common (and invariably unfavorably inclined away from the Indian captain), I was struck by the absurdity of it all. Ganguly might have grown up in a household with hired help (an unimaginable luxury in the Waugh household, I'm sure) but in cricketing terms he was a pauper when it came to Waugh. I do not doubt for a second that Captain Courageous grew up with access to an established, well-organized, cricketing structure, to cricket nets provided by the local council, to high-quality equipment, and all of the rest. And I'm willing to wager good money that Ganguly's access to anything similar was far more attenuated. When it came to cricketing riches, Steve Waugh was the true millionaire.
In 2000, shortly after I moved to Australia, I was asked by an office-mate (and future team-mate) whether I'd like "a net". A few days later, I was staggered to find out that we could just stroll up with a kitbag and lay claim to a pair of cricket nets at the Waverley Oval. We batted and bowled for over an hour, and repeated the process over the next few weeks as the suburban cricket season started up.
There never seemed to be a shortage of cricket nets all over Sydney; access was simple and free. Most city councils featured a large and beautiful oval (Bankstown has one; I saw a limited overs game there between New South Wales and Queensland). When we wanted to get fancy, we booked a net at the SCG (the practice facilities for which featured 12 nets with playing surfaces varying in bounce and pace). (The major cricketing grounds were, of course, comfortable more often than not, and spending a day at them was the furthest thing from an imposition).
My reaction to this cornucopia of cricketing affordances was one of unbridled amazement. Precisely how easy was it in this country to play cricket, to nurture it, to foster its future growth? Very, it seemed to me. Of course, this assessment grossly understates the hard work and the effort put into the creation of such an environment. And it also understates the financial backing for the creation of such cricketing nurseries. Be that as it may, the final evidence was there for all to see. Cricket had been woven into daily life; playing and practicing the game was made easy and pleasurable.
Which finally, brings me back to India. After three years of the IPL, and several more years of the financial domination of the BCCI, how much richer in cricketing terms is India? How much of the BCCI's fortunes have flowed back into local development schemes for cricket? Do we have a cricket net in each major urban neighborhood, or perhaps BCCI-subsidized cricket nets at schools and colleges? I know that space and population constraints in India are severe, and do not allow for a direct comparison with countries like Australia. But I'm still genuinely curious. Besides the attention paid to endeavors like sponsoring the India A tours, or age-group tournaments, will the BCCI ever take a crack at upgrading cricket facilities across the country so that the next generation of cricketers can grow up with ready access to the game?
If and when that happens, the descriptions of the cricketing wealth will ring a little truer and displace the current sensation of watching the relentless accumulation of non-cricketing wealth by a select few. That includes those domestic players lucky enough to be selected for an IPL-paypacket. The fortunes of these players have certainly improved, but that does not diminish the need for the creation of a cricket environment that can nurture the next generation of Indian cricket.
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here