April 18, 2014

Why India are not cricket's Brazil yet

The numbers might be in their favour, but they can neither boast sustained excellence or a distinctive playing style

Perhaps in the future India will dominate the limited-overs format, which plays to their strengths, like Brazil did football World Cups © ICC

Ed Smith's analogising India with Brazil was an interesting exercise. It works on some levels but not at other, equally crucial, ones.

When football fans think of Brazil, they think primarily of the following: sustained excellence in the game, as evinced by a series of World Cup wins; a tradition of attractive, distinctive, particular styles; a rich local culture of playing football; and a persistent production of high-quality football players revered the world over for their innovative skills.

Brazil's World Cup wins are a crucial part of this picture. They represent wins in football's most prized trophy and indicate an attainment of the game's highest standards.

So is Brazil's style of flowing, attacking football. When hard-headed, pragmatic coaches seek a more airtight strategic and tactical mix, one that is more "winning", it is met with howls of dismay from Brazil's dedicated fans.

So Brazil dominate football's imagination in both the sporting and aesthetic dimensions.

I do not think India do this - not as yet, at least. India's excellence in cricket has been spotty at best: despite producing some of the world's best batsmen, they have never risen to the absolute top in Test cricket because of their failure to produce quality bowling line-ups. While their batsmen have scored heavily and even displayed a distinctive stylistic repertoire, they have not been able to dominate consistently and persistently at home and overseas. India's brand of cricket has never been aggressive, but rather, marked by patience, persistence, and the seizing of moments of opportunity provided by opponents. (While I might be suggesting here that India's style or brand of cricket is "distinctive", it is not, despite plenty of talk of "wristy batsmen", one that is quite as universally adored and admired as Brazil's football is.)

India do not dominate cricket's imagination in either the sporting or the aesthetic dimension. (Indian fans - their numbers and their supposed devotion to the game - certainly dominate the imagination of cricket's journalists and headline-writers; they also dominate blog comments spaces.) Indeed, as many Indian commentators never tire of pointing out, they are provided endless fodder for analysis by the large gap between the following for the game and the lack of consistent performance by the national team.

A better analogy to draw would have been with West Indies: dominant in Test cricket over an extended period, all the while employing a visually and technically idiosyncratic take on the playing of the game. Of course, I do not think Smith intended his analogy to be exact; if I understood him correctly, he meant to indicate that India's combination of a large cricketing population (both players and fans), experience in international cricket, and so-called "knowledge networks", sustain a political economy for cricket that will in time come to dominate those of other teams.

I think this prediction might ultimately turn out to be correct. Especially if limited-overs formats gain prominence and importance. Here, even though bowlers have come to play a greater role than was originally imagined, batsmen still dominate. These formats make the most room to accommodate India's traditional weakness in bowling. When you notice India's fielding has drastically improved you begin to see how they could dominate in these formats. And of course, at home, India are particularly effective with their particular combination of playing XIs; they can call upon their traditional strength in spinners to back up their never-ending production of high-quality batsmen.

Smith's analogy is thus incomplete but still provocative. It is also vulnerable to the possibility that cricket will not retain its place in the Indian imagination. This displacement will be accelerated if Indians start to succeed in other international sports and siphon attention and sponsor monies away from cricket.

I'm an old-fashioned fart; I would love it if Indian cricket became like Brazilian football in the dimensions that matter the most to me: persistent excellence in Tests, backed up by aggressive, purposeful cricket. One can hope.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Naresh on April 22, 2014, 6:45 GMT

    @kiwirocker - you can tire reading for all we care. India never claimed to be the Brazil of cricket. We know what we know. WE HAVE BEEN SAYING IT SINCE LONG AGO THAT WE DO NOT HAVE THE PACE BOWLERS TO DOMINATE - this is a fact. One thing Ed smith was trying to highlight was the fan, cricket following in India is phenomenal. Children grow up playing the game in the streets. A fact is that we have Sachin, Gavaskar to show for it - his records are there whether you want to believe it or not. We have WC wins to show.

  • Darshan on April 21, 2014, 8:23 GMT

    India will be INDIA in next ten years. They will easily win 2-3 world cups in next ten years (ODI + T20).

    Till now, Australia - 4 WCs India - 3 WCs West Indies - 3 WCs.

    Rest are not worth to mention.

  • Vikraj on April 21, 2014, 7:11 GMT

    i am observing cricket from last 2 decades and I feel comparing India with Brazil is not worth..... India may be cricket's spain where from last few years they have started winning the major tournaments like India's T-20 world cup(2007), Asia Cup winner2010, World Cup-2011, ICC Champions Trophy-2013 similar to Spain's Euro Cup-2008, World Cup-2010 and again Euro Cup-2012..... but still finding difficulty in keeping consistancy of their performances.... Rather Australia can be Brazil.... who actually performing well and giving hard fights even in their bad phases from last 2 decades atleast.....

  • Dummy4 on April 21, 2014, 5:53 GMT

    @Anand Kumar - India's bowling in not lethal anywhere Sir, Yes MS Dhoni knows how to employ his bowlers very well, but Indian bowlers even in India very easily concede over 300 runs in an innings. India has been poor at bowling just as Pakistan is poor at Batting right now, the only difference is that Pakistan has produced great batsmen that can rival India's current crop.

  • Dummy4 on April 21, 2014, 5:51 GMT

    In terms of following India is the Brazil equivalent of cricket. But cricket as a global sport is still in its infancy, the first major event was played in 1975 and there are still only 10 major nations involved. So for Brazil to dominate football they did, not just result wise but the style and identity they imparted onto the game.

    India have their cricket identity, produce great batsmen and some good spinners. But only in the last decade since Ganguly's captaincy have they being among the top 2-3 teams. Before that they were really a mediocre side.

  • Bobby on April 21, 2014, 2:21 GMT

    India lost 4-0 in England in recent memory, India lost 4-0 in Australia in recent memory, India also decided to lose against England at home...and then India went on to lose against NZ in NZ.Did I even mention South Africa?..So how is India cricket's Brazil? It is an insult to Brazil! Cricket teams of Australia, West Indies and Pakistan in 80's and 90's with their well rounded attacks and sustained excellence could claim they were close to Brazil but if anything India is a mediocre Test team who has managed to lose home and especially overseas against everyone. India's bowling is worse than Associate teams. India's batting is more over hyped than what it is..ICC rankings are flawed! NZ has managed to hammer India albeit at home. India is equally an above average ODI team who has a very lucky and one of the best ODI captains. India owes a lot of their ODI wins to Dhoni...I am getting tired of reading these pro-India articles on every second day with amusing comparisons!Well done SC!

  • naveed on April 21, 2014, 2:04 GMT

    No use telling barren minds, India is a billion universe away before one can even entertain such thought when it comes to actual cricketing skills. It is just that other teams do not have better fast bowlers. It is like somewhere I read in comments 2 yrs ago when Balaji was interviewed that tendulkar faced Malcom Marshall & Co. Really? It does not even look like that tendulkar ever faced Ambrose, Walsh and Bishop in tandem, forget the mighty Roberts, Holding, Croft, Garner, and Malcolm. On top of that it is like saying that Tendulkar consistently faced 2Ws in test cricket when 2 Ws were in their prime.

  • Dummy4 on April 20, 2014, 21:08 GMT

    Excellent article Samir, no person with any proper knowledge of Cricket and Football can doubt your analysis. When any neutral football fan talks about Brazil- the perception is a Poor , Humble Nation in terms of resources and administration with real flair, natural ability that can dominate any team in any conditions over a sustained period. I am sorry but India doesnt meet most of this criteria and I agree that Windies side in the 80s would be the closest we can find. Brazil certainly wouldnt make any BIG 3 in football but as a footballing nation they were Big.

  • Pankaj on April 20, 2014, 16:47 GMT

    Yet another evocative article. Disagree with the basic premise though Samir. Brazil - Windies or Australia, depends on what era you see. These teams pretty much led the field. Windies could yet be the magic Magyars. India - say Argentina (God knows who will feel more ruffled?). Pakistan - Mexico. England - naturally England. Safrica and New Zealand - maybe among France, Spain and Uruguay. Great food for thought.

  • Hawks on April 20, 2014, 15:31 GMT

    Cricket India is as good as India in football :-)

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