PARTAB RAMCHAND | 5 SEPTEMBER, 2017
Finally, Cricket Has Some Competition From Other Sports
In this cricket crazy nation – symbolized by the astronomical sum of money paid out for the IPL media rights - other sports generally remain in the background. Discussions at homes and offices, restaurants and bars generally centre round cricket but now and then interest in other sports touches a very high level. While cricket continues to hold sway whether the Indian team is doing well or not interest in other sports is linked to the national squad touching a purple patch or in the case of an individual sport if the sportspersons are faring well at the major events.
Tennis is one sport that has commanded a loyal following in the country for the last half a century and more thanks to the deeds of Ramanathan Krishnan, Vijay Amritraj, Leander Paes and Sania Mirza. For a short while sports like shooting and weightlifting have been the flavor of the season thanks to the exploits of Rajavardhan Rathore, Abhinav Bindra and Karnam Malleswari. There has been a steady interest through the years in wrestling and boxing with a number of Indians faring well in these Olympic disciplines.
Hockey for long commanded a considerable following but with the team not exactly faring well in the international arena interest has gradually slackened. Interest in athletics was sustained from the fifties to the eighties thanks to the deeds of Milkha Singh, Sriram Singh and PT Usha but the sport does not command the same loyalty now for obvious reasons.
There is also considerable interest in chess thanks chiefly to Viswanathan Anand arguably the greatest-ever Indian sportsman even though this is a sport which does not attract a lot of discussion among sports fans possibly because of its intricate moves. Much the same can be said about billiards and snooker even though the country has produced several world champions in these cue sports. Indian sports fans are also interested in motor racing, football and basketball but with Indian standards rather low in these disciplines they are attracted to Formula I, the EPL and La Liga and the NBA matches in the USA.
But if there is one sport that has really made waves in this country of late it has to be badminton. Interest in the game is at an all time high and there is no need for a rocket scientist to make a deep analysis why this is so. The exploits of PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal as well as a few men players around the international circuit has meant that badminton is now a hot property among sports in India. There is considerable discussion about badminton round the cocktail circuit and the sudden interest has also resulted in the top players emerging as marketable brands when it comes to ads and endorsements.
Ever since she won the silver medal at the Rio Olympics last year Sindhu has been feted like few Indian sportspersons before her and deservedly so. Fortunately she has not let success go to her head and has been able to maintain her challenge at the international level the latest proof of this being the silver medal at the world championships at Glasgow last month. Saina for long the big name in badminton in this country is now in Sindhu’s shadow but remains a major figure around the international circuit. The men players may not be the cynosure that the two women undoubtedly are but they are also performing commendably in world events and doing their bit in seeing that badminton is a much discussed sport right now.
It is not that badminton has not thrown up international level stars in the past. TN Seth and Nandu Natekar were big names in the fifties and sixties but the sport really made a lot of headway with the advent of Prakash Padukone in the seventies. Combining skill and stamina Prakash took fitness levels to a new high even as he emerged as one of the leading players in the world culminating in the historic all England triumph in 1980. Pullela Gopichand emulated this feat in 2001 but it is his role as a coach who has been able to produce a string of champions that has earned him even more plaudits. And in the last decade first Saina and then Sindhu by their deeds on court has seen to it that badminton has suddenly became the most talked about sport in the country only next to cricket.
It is heartening that other disciplines besides cricket are getting their due from every angle – the sports fan, the government, officials, broadcasters, the media and sponsors. The Olympics are the biggest sporting stage in the world and cricket not being part of the Games achievements in country’s biggest and richest sport however significant do not make world headlines. With India doing reasonably well at the Olympics in the last 20 years – compared to the long period before that when the country drew a blank in the medals tally on numerous occasions – this is the time to build upon this upward surge in the sporting graph. That way there could finally emerge a true sports culture in the country.