“Cricket is basically Baseball on Valium”
Robin Williams – actor
Exemplary sportsmanship or the height of controversy? Old-fashioned and out-dated or modern and adaptable to change? Exciting or boring? Popular or irrelevant?
All these words mean very different things and yet they are all often used when describing the game of cricket. In fact, very few other team sports divide opinion quite as drastically as cricket, and it may surprise you to hear that it continues to be the second most popular sport worldwide. What makes this statistic even more impressive is that outside of the commonwealth countries (those which used to make up the British Empire), cricket attracts very little interest.
Yes football (or “soccer”) stands out as the world’s most popular sport. It has a huge worldwide fan-base, it is played on every continent and it is the national sport of around 90 countries. Cricket, however, is not too far behind. Indeed, on the 30th March 2011 over 1 billion people worldwide tuned in to watch India beat Pakistan in the Cricket World Cup semi-final. Just as many, if not more, would watch India conquer Sri Lanka in the final some three days later.
These statistics clearly show that cricket is a game that enjoys a vast and growing popularity. Its real beauty, however, is its ability to unite people. It transcends boundaries of race, age, gender, religion and political beliefs. The Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, for example, attended the semi-final of the 2011 World Cup together. This was the first time that the pair had met for three years because political disagreements and arguments had soured the relationship between their respective countries.
So what makes cricket such a popular game?
- It has a long and peculiar history. The first international match was played in 1844. In this period there was no limit to how much time a “Test Match” would last. In 1939, for example, a match between England and South Africa lasted for 12 days. The game had to be abandoned because the English team would have missed their boat home!
- It is a gentleman’s game. One of the most important and best-loved aspects of cricket is that it is played with a great deal of sportsmanship. The saying “it’s just not cricket” is used to describe something or someone that doesn’t act in a sporting manner.
- It appeals to all members of society. You may be young or old. Male or female. Rich or poor. Cricket doesn’t care which country you come from, or which language you speak. Nor is buying cricket equipment very expensive these days. Youngsters who love the game can make their own bat and ball out of any old junk!
- It’s a great way to meet people and you don’t even have to play the game to be a member of a cricket club. For many people enjoying a summer’s day watching cricket is a simple pleasure and a treasured pastime. In England, villagers gather at their local village green on Sunday afternoons to support their cricket team as they do battle against their rivals! Matches consist of 2 teams of 11 players and the aim of the game is to try to hit a leather ball as far as possible with a wooden bat.
- Relaxing and stress-free. As the Hollywood actor Robin Williams famously put it. “Cricket is basically baseball on Valium.” Spot on.
All these reasons, and many others too, have combined to produce cricket’s astonishing popularity. However, it is in India that the game enjoys an unrivalled and almost unbelievable status. You can’t walk far through the streets of Mumbai without seeing a match taking place in the street. The generous and welcoming nature of the Indian people might also mean you are invited to join in yourself! This obvious passion for the game sees India’s national players hailed as gods amongst men and this allows them to earn extraordinarily large salaries. Indeed it is almost as if the happiness of a nation depends on the success of its national team!
Recently, however, cricket has had to adapt to a new generation of fans who prefer to watch a match from beginning to end within three hours rather than 5 days. 20/20 is a completely different format to 5-day test cricket, with each team allowed only 20 overs to get as many runs as possible (an over consists of 6 balls delivered by the bowler, which the batsman tries to hit to score a run. The further the ball travels the more runs a batsman gets). This produces a far more fast-paced and action-packed game. Some people love it; some hate it. Since this format started in 2003, however, it has been a huge success. Games attract huge crowds; players earn vast sums of money, and the public’s thirst for action is quenched.
This historic game has a long future, which everyone can be a part of. If you have never played the game, or if you have never even heard of it, perhaps now is the time. Who knows you may be a future sporting superstar!
Are you a cricket lover? Tell us why you like or dislike cricket.
If cricket is new to you, would you like to have a go?