New Dehli – On June 1, the Indian Premier League came to a thundering climax with a cliffhanger final match, watched by 60,000 cheering fans in a new stadium and an estimated 300 million television viewers around the world. As cheerleaders danced and waved brightly colored pom-poms, and star sportsmen from across the globe, clad in their teams’ multi-hued regalia, looked forward to a $2.5 million payday, black-market tickets changed hands for as much as $2,500.
Football? Basketball? No, the IPL is the newest Indian innovation revolutionizing that most staid of Victorian sports – cricket.
As the globalizing world discovers a twenty-first-century India full of high-tech computer geeks, efficient businessmen, colorful fashions, and glitzy entertainment – a far cry from the old stock images of fakirs on beds of nails, maharajahs on elephants, and mendicants with begging bowls – it is also finding an India obsessed with what most regard as a nineteenth-century sport.
Cricket has seized the Indian national imagination like no other sport. An international match can fill 100,000-seat stadiums, while attracting TV audiences of 350 million. Airline pilots provide passengers with the latest scores; office-goers cluster around the nearest available television. Cricketers occupy a place in India’s pantheon rivaled only by gods and Bollywood stars. The performances of our heroes are analyzed with far more passion than any political crisis. In no other country does a sport so often command the front pages of leading newspapers.