The games Indians play

The games Indians play

Except chess which is reputed to have originated in ancient India and spread to other countries, we are not known to have invented many games....

Except chess which is reputed to have originated in ancient India and spread to other countries, we are not known to have invented many games. Whatever being played at local level are either improvisations or adaptations of traditional games handed down from generation to generation and they are peculiar to regions where they are popular.

All the modern games the young and the old play in schools and colleges and in clubs and open fields have their roots in the West and most of them were brought to India by colonial rulers who might have thought that Indians needed a lot more playful activity than indulging in rustic games. Among the notable sports is cricket, originally patronized by the maharajas of yore. Since it was played by the privileged and the rulers, it became a royal game.

Whenever and wherever the extravaganza was held, it was a grand affair, with British officials and their ladies in their finest attire gracing the occasion and rubbing shoulders with local princes. The Test matches themselves presented a spectacle to the hoi polloi who had never seen a game like cricket.

The nearest to it that they could think of was gilli danda, which some claim was a precursor to cricket. A few nationalists have gone to the extent of suggesting that the British had actually learnt that game from Indians, and after setting the rules and framing the regulations, they brought it back to India in the form of cricket which we learnt and mastered it by default.

The British called it a gentlemen's game since it was played at that time by noble men (women entered the field later) in the British colonies for pure joy and pleasure. Despite the intemperate George Bernard Shaw's sarcastic remark that cricket was a game played by 22 flannelled fools and watched by 22,000 (we don't know why the Irish playwright had fixed the audience number); its popularity has increased in geometric proportions over the years.

He would have turned in his grave had he known how many fools were watching 22 of their crafty compatriots playing with willow and leather. Add the numbers of those who would be glued to TV sets whenever a cricket match is played, particularly in the sub-continent. A billion plus viewers, eagerly watching every move and movement of players, cursing the missed catches, cheering the fours and sixes, celebrating the win with beers and sweets and loss with expletives.

Thanks to mass interest in cricket, the gentlemen's game has become a street game with kids playing it out with improvised bats, balls and stumps. It is mass hysteria when international cricket matches are on, particularly between arch rivals India and Pakistan. It is not cricket; it is virtual war with balls and bats and between guts and glory with dollops of national pride liberally thrown in.

The large audience, cheering crowds, the focus of TV cameras, and the enormous amounts of money being paid to players are heady. Win or lose, they are assured of fees; bonus is endorsements that can make them laugh all the way to banks. Money, money and more money is the name of the game. How to make moolah out of cricket has become an art and science by itself.

The original five-day game has been shortened to three to make it less boring; then to one-day to make it more interesting. Then came the 20 Overs, in short T20, to pump up the adrenalin and the volume of money it generates through sponsorships, advertisements and TV broadcasting rights. Thus cricket's floodgates for making money have opened.

The game's commercialization is complete with auction of players (at first likened to cattle auction) at never heard of amounts. A little glitz has been added in the form of cheer leaders a la American baseball and Bollywood glamour with cricket-struck stars buying franchises.

Cricket, from quickie to one-dayers, has now all the ingredients � greed, glamour and glitz -- to make it corrupt, and with more money flowing in more corrupt in the Indian context. The mess in which the IPL finds itself is only the tip of the iceberg. With more investigations and with more skeletons tumbling out of cupboards, more movers and shakers have to be ferreted out of their sequestered homes in India, Dubai and elsewhere.

What is going to happen next? The law will take its own course is the general refrain. If we go by the past and present scams, it is doubtful how many will be caught by the long arm of the Indian law and punished. Even then, should not the show go on, and who is responsible for bringing disrepute to the game whose ground rules dictate fair play and honesty? Players? Organisers? Betters? Bookies?

It's a conundrum; It's a failure at individual and collective level. More than omissions and commissions, it is the audacity with which millions of cricket fans and some players within the League have been taken for a ride through spot-fixing and other malpractices.

Finally, the day has come for introspection: Whether we should let some people play their own games in the name of cricket to enrich themselves or restore the game's credibility in the country and in the eyes of other cricket-playing nations.

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