Cricket is religion in India. How many times have we heard that in the news, read that in newspaper, quoted in conversations? Though the National game of India is Hockey but it is cricket that has the Indian public’s heart. People follow this game like a religion. People in India might not be aware of Indian Hockey team’s captain but they are aware of cricketers playing for the first time in national colours. Corporate houses, politicians, even the media wants to get associated with cricket in one form or the other. This wasn’t always the case with cricket. There was a time when cricket was a game only for the royals and the privileged and the common man had no or very little access to it.
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Cricket was started in India by the British as early as 1791. It wasn’t late in the 19th and early 20th century that it was played with a lot more interest. In 1932 India became one of the few counties to be given the right to play international cricket. A lot of people along with the then king of England followed the game. India, along with other countries became a regular in International cricket, but it was an average cricket playing nation. It was followed by a lot of people now, but there was very little media coverage. This might have been due to the poor performance of Indian cricket team during this time. This might also be attributed to the fact that Indian Hockey was at its best during this time racking in medals after medals at Olympics and other International events.
In 1983, a shocking turn of events took place; India won the World Cup. They did so by beating the then cricket powerhouse West Indies in the finals. Indian cricket team received a hero’s welcome. They were the new talk of the town. Everybody wanted to see them, talk about them and know about them. Around this time, television also started making its way into Indian people’s drawing rooms. This is when the media, though limited in its scope, got a chance to bring these cricketers closer to Indian audiences and fans. This was to open a door of endless possibilities which were beneficial for both the parties. This was the first time Indian cricketers started making money through endorsements and sponsorship deals. This trend was started by Sunil Gavaskar. But Media had a big hand to play in it. The popularity of these cricketers was as much due to the coverage of their feats in the newspapers, television news (mainly Doordarshan) and radio.
In the 90s two other new changes came which were about to revolutionize cricket and media both. The advent of cable television was about to change how news was viewed and how Indian audiences looked at entertainment. The rise of Sachin Tendulkar also was a phenomenon which brought unlimited money into cricket and cricketers became richer and richer through sponsorship deals and endorsements. In 1995, worldtel signed Sachin Tendulkar for Rs 30 crore, and after this, there was no looking back for cricketers.
The beginning of 24 hours news channels saw the start of entertainment and news merging together. The media got too involved in the lives of cricketers and everything a cricketer did was in the limelight. The audience wanted to know everything about their favourite cricketer and the media delivered. This led to the crazy idolization of cricketers when they performed and their fall was even more dramatic whenever they failed.
Media was instrumental in shedding light on the match fixing scandal that shook the cricket world. Before that, the cricket world used to talk about it in hush tones and nobody was sure what was going on. But the whole Hansie Cronje incident also brought down many big names and media had a big role in providing evidence against the culprits.
Initially the role of the media in Indian cricket was progressive during the transitional period in the Indian cricket, where we were transitioning from an average cricket playing nation to a force to reckon with. But now, the Indian media, in my opinion (particularly the electronic media) does not serve the interest of the people and cricket in general – in fact some of it is positively anti-cricket. The Indian media today is busy making profits or helping some political party fulfil a political agenda.
Earning money through selling stories about crickets to the masses and bringing controversies like these are not the only motive that media has with cricket. Media often diverts the attention of the people from real issues to non-issues. The real issues in India are socio-economic. Even in cricket the real issues are development based. In olden times emperors used to say “if you cannot feed them bread, then give them circus” This is what the Indian media is doing today. Nobody would disagree with the fact that a little entertainment in news would not harm anyone, but today the media is overdoing it. Media distracts people from real issues using entertainment and what better way to distract people than cricket. The best example of this would be India-Pakistan relations.
The partition of 1947 and the resultant turmoil triggered off hatred, distrust and prejudice in almost every sphere of activity in the sub-continent. Interestingly, it was cricket that formed the first bilateral exchange in 1952 when Pakistan, led by Abdul Hafeez Kardar, toured India, evoking a spontaneous, albeit tense, response. It was reciprocated two years later when India paid the first official visit under Vinoo Mankad, generating an equally sensitive response. Yet since 1947 a ‘cricket conflict’ brewed simultaneously between the two countries, based on the nationalist antagonism between the two teams and backed by passionate fans on both sides. And even today whenever there is a talk of the Indian and Pakistani dialogue over politics and peace process, it starts with resuming Indo-Pak cricket ties. And thus starts the agenda of distracting the general public from the real issues. Indian public, (not as a generalisation) is not disappointed with the failure in the peace negotiation as long as we win the cricket match between the two countries. Today Indo-Pak cricket offers a striking case study to see how a political conflict between two states has trickled down to the mass level and saturated the mass psyche to such an extent, that political hostilities are not only played on the Line of Control but also on the cricket field. This mass psyche of a purported nationalist conflict has been also revved by years of state propaganda against the enemy country, which permeated in all forms of interaction and exchange with the enemy – be it sports or war.
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Media often divides people. Be it about bomb blast, India’s Foreign policy or India’s chances in the next cricket world cup. It is healthy for a country and its people to have debates and opposing views, but the way media works in India, we are being fed opinions about how we should think about policies, personalities and situations. Our views and opinions are polarized by the media and we see through their eyes. There was a time when Indian cricketers did not have money, and except for the cricketers playing at the international level, domestic cricketers had to struggle with their career and money. But Indian cricket board became one of the richest sporting bodies in the world. And then came IPL, the country was divided between whether it was fair for cricketers, especially young cricketers starting their careers, to get ridiculous amount of money.
Then there was corruption and this heated up the debate even more. IPL was used by politicians, movie stars, corporate houses and media houses as well to their advantage (not taking into account Deccan chronicle’s recent decline). IPL became a way for everyone to earn money and easy publicity. Media also became a part of this honey pot. Constant coverage of not just cricket but of the cricketers’ activities, the parties and the over analysis of performances, all became part of what media circus that was IPL.
Media has now become so powerful that based on one failure or success it can create stars and make villains. The Ganguly-Chappell controversy was brought to the general public by the media. Something that was supposed to stay in the dressing room was now at the media’s disposal. It led to the downfall of both Ganguly as well as Greg Chappell.
Media and the players have started to understand how to use each other for their own benefit. Players have started using media to increase their popularity, joining social networking sites, remaining in the public eye. All this gets them bigger and better pay checks. Today the fee these stars charge for a single endorsement is astronomical. Media has had a big role to play in that. Also a lot of players make up some controversy right before they release their autobiography. They leak some controversial part of the book and then media does the rest. But Media also benefits from these cricketers. Players give them sound bites, come as guests for expert opinions, which raises the TRPs of their programs and gets them advertising spots as well.
Indian Public has been fed with large amount of information by the 24 hours news channels but the quality and standard of its content have become extremely narrow. The glitz and the glamour of television have taken the Indian viewer by storm. They surf from channel to channel, mindlessly viewing and getting information that they might not need leaving them confused and perplexed and unable to think for themselves and that’s when media feeds them information that they want the viewer to take. The amount of money involved in cricket today and the influence it holds over the general Indian public is huge, and that make a very powerful motivator for the media to use cricket as a tool to further its agendas in India and the world.
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