One of my many ambitions as a six-year old was to represent India in Cricket, Hockey and Football (Six-year olds can be very crazy, you see. My other ambitions included becoming a pilot, winning the Wimbledon, a doctor, an engineer, and the Prime Minister of India. COMBINED, but that is beside the point). I wanted to be a player who could guide India to another World Cup triumph in Cricket and Hockey, and make it a new superpower in the world of football. None of these 'dreams' became reality, ofcourse. Neither have I been able to make it to any of these teams (I havent been even close) and neither has India got back the World Cup in Cricket and Hockey; in football, World Cup qualification is still a distant dream. And now, looking as obscene(obese??) as I have ever done, I am just looking back at those days, when I first encoutered butter. (That is another long story!) Otherwise I could have been the new star on the horizon, and India a major sports power, just like Australia.
These thoughts came back to me because of a statement by Gerd Muller, the highest scorer ever in World Cup Football and the general-secretary (or something of that sort) of Bayern Munich, which was in Calcutta (their U-21 or second side I guess) to participate in the IFA Shield. The statement roughly analysed the three games' status in India. As a lead up to the tournament, Hindustan Times (or was it the Times Of India, you can hardly tell the difference nowadays) published articles of past Bayern Munich greats. This is what he wrote, "I know that football is not as popular in India as cricket, the national sport of India, is..". And then I realised it: Cricket is now considered the national sport of India even by foreigners. We Indians had given up on hockey a long time ago, but it still remains the national sport of India. And I waited the next day, and the day after that, for some apology by the newspaper, giving hockey its due. But none came. What was worse: No one even pointed out this glaring error to the editors of the daily. So it remained, and that day, it got confirmed: Hockey might be the official national sport, but when it comes to cricket, there's "nothing official about it" tagline attached along. For otherwise, how would we explain the massive protests over Ganguly's exclusion from the team; and not a similiar incident when Dhanraj Pillay is excluded even from the list ofprobables. Why dont people start writing blogs after the golden boy of Indian Football, Baichung Bhutia, fails to make it to the Indian team. Why do we shower a godlike status on our cricket stars while failing to recognize even the names of Indian players in other teams. How many of us, for example, can name 3-4 players who played (and won, mind you) in the SAFF Football Cup in Pakistan. (Or well, did you ever come to know that such a tournament was being organised?). And how many of you could name the Hockey team taking part in the Challenger Series, where India finished sixth among six teams (But, they were the world Best Teams).
I dont have anything against Cricket as such, but I was just looking at the coverage three events running simultaneously got on the press and the media, and there it was. Cricket covered 3 out of the 4 pages of the Sports Section, while Hockey got a quarter. (This was the challenger trophy, the best of the best in the World Of Hockey!). And India's football win was just in the Sports titbits section. No doubt, that while six years old in my time wanted to represent India in more than just cricket, now every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to be a Sachin Tendulkar.
The year I was born, cricket was just a blip on the horizon. It was a game that was catching up fast on hockey, but there was a chance for football as well. And then, one fine Summer Afternoon at Lord's, (JUne 25, 1983. I am not very sure about the date..again) it all changed. Kapil's Devils had won the World Cup Cricket, and India lost every other sport. Since then, it has been cricket all over, and because it has matched up so well with the Television boom, is now India's unofficial national sport.
But all is not yet lost for hockey and football. My mother still remembers how she and the entire family stopped eating for a full day when India lost to Pakistan in the Semifinals at Munich in 1972. And I remember, how proud I felt reading about Indian football reaching the semi-finals at Melbourne olympics way back in 1956. When was the last time you felt proud about India beating Pakistan in Hockey? And in football?
All it takes is for IHF and AIFF to remove their old bastions of power (KPS Gill and Priyaranjan Dasmunshi, respectiviely) and make a new start. These two sports need a Reliance World Cup. Or better still, good performances for a start.