Cricket is most popular in the south-Asian nations of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. So much so, that most other sports are often ignored in these countries in terms of relative importance. Despite severe criticism of the British as a former oppressor (at least partially) in the post-colonial countries of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, one thing that these countries will never accept lightheartedly is an insult to cricket. Cricket is valued by these countries as the greatest and most valuable gift given by the English. In many cricket matches the stadiums are often tightly packed in these countries, and cricket is the subject of conversation among several groups of people of different ages and sexes. A cricket match shown on a Television at airports, railway stations, other public areas often quickly catches the interest of passers by in these countries.
Unfortunately, the behavior of fans in the subcontinent have been noted to be extremely disappointing. On more than one occasion, cricket fans in the subcontinent have often reacted to the losses of their national teams in a disappointing and rather shameful manner (throwing stones at the opposing countries’ players, throwing bottles into the ground, sending letters with death threats to their own players, and throwing stones at the residences of their team’s players). The rivalry between India and Pakistan is especially telling. Due to their political differences, losses of India to Pakistan and vice versa are often taken very seriously by the fans of those respective countries. So much so, that fans of both countries often forget to enjoy the game and rather bring religion and politics into the game. Indian and Pakistani fans have often reacted in a shameful manner against each other and there have even been situations that have lead to near fist-fights between fans.
Needless to say, although cricket is popular in the subcontinent, many fans only know a few basic rules of cricket and display an extreme lack of knowledge of the sport. While true cricket fans from the subcontinent, who are unfettered by political or religious convictions, are very knowledgeable about cricket and maintain a very objective view of the sport, others limit themselves to only knowing what a “six,” “four” or “out” means. There are few of us objective, realistic and well-behaved cricket fans from the subcontinent. Nevertheless, players from Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand have often expressed extreme delight at the opportunity to play in the subcontinent, especially India. Quite naturally, players want to see a large crowd coming to watch the match. You never get a bigger crowd for cricket anywhere else but in India. The reason I say especially India, is because teams are often apprehensive about playing in Pakistan because of security concerns. Very recently, in 2009 the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked by terrorists in Pakistan, while they were on their way to the stadium. Cricketers in Pakistan expressed extreme shame and disappointment at this incident and admitted that this may the end of cricket matches in Pakistan. Unfortunately, they may well be right. Pakistani cricket fans may sadly have to forget about watching Cricket in Pakistan for a while.
While India’s security is certainly not stellar (let us not forget the incident in Bombay in December 2008), the country is often considered relatively peaceful in comparison to the other subcontinental countries. Furthermore, India’s military might has often been seen as giving some form of assurance. While the incident in Bombay was a major embarrassment to India, many around the world, especially western countries, praised the manner in which the Indian military and government handled the incident and eventually rescued the lives of many hostages. Security concerns have also often been cited by the international cricket community with regard to Sri Lanka.
The founders of cricket have pretty much lost interest in cricket…or so it seems. The irony of it all is that cricket remains extremely popular in the former British colonies, but is no longer popular in England. While cricket is still the official national sport of England and still does have a wide following in England, most English individuals love football (soccer…you know…where they actually kick the ball with their foot?) much more than they love cricket. Why did this happen? What made soccer more popular than cricket in England? The answer is obvious – England’s cricket teams over the last two-to-three decades have often been a big time losing side in all the most important matches. Australia has continuously managed to add insult to injury when playing against England in the 1980s and 1990s. Between 1980 and 2003 or 2004, the cricket teams of England have performed so poorly that English fans had lost faith in their team. England has a consistent football team, however, and is among the best football teams in the world. So, there should be no question why fans turned away from cricket to soccer in the last two decades.
Nevertheless, with England’s resurgence after several “Ashes” victories in and post 2005 and with its World Cup victory (FINALLY!) in 2019, that may well change now. We will have to wait and see what happens.