India’s former test captain, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, or Nawab Pataudi, as we better know him, has once again given fire to the debate – ‘Should cricket be made the national game of India, taking the status away from hockey?’ In a recent comment, he suggested his opinion which was immediately ridiculed by many former hockey Olympians.
There is no doubting Indian cricket team’s current success in the field. They not only established their supremacy in the new Twenty-20 version of the game by winning the world cup but by defeating the Australians and then the English team at home in the original form of the game, they proved their mettle in tests as well. The current team is anointed with legends like Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, consistent openers like Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag, a match winner in Yuvraj Singh, a wonderful strike bowling pair of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, a classic off-spinner in Harbhajan Singh and above all, an able and efficient wicket keeper-batsman-leader in Mahendra Singh Dhoni. When combined as a unit, they make arguably one of the best teams India has ever had in the game of cricket.
Let me now analyse what the national game of a country means. National game of a country is the game which is considered the intrinsic part of the culture of that country. We all know, cricket in India is not merely a sport, it is a religion. We all remember what we were doing when Sreesanth took that catch of Misbah-ul-Haq to win the Twenty-20 world cup for India just like we remember what we were doing when we got the shocking news of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Cricket unites us all. It’s a common scene on the streets seeing people asking from scores from otherwise unknown shopkeepers who enjoy the ‘luxury’ watching the live match even at their workplace! Every cricket lover in India is a cricket ‘expert’ having his/her views on every match, every ball and every decision taken either by the captain, or the team management or even the BCCI.
But does all this make cricket eligible to be the national game of India and take this status from hockey? My opinion is no. Most of us (at least me!) were not even born at the time when Indian hockey team was nothing short of invincible and the entire country remained glued to their radio sets listening to the detail of every pass, every move being made on the field by the incomparable commentators like Jasdev Singh and Anupam Gulati. The superhuman abilities of Major Dhyanchand with the hockey stick forced Hitler to offer him a commission in the German army, which he gracefully rejected. No other Indian sportsman has ever made such an impact. If there was electronic and web media coverage at that time as it is today, the former hockey Olympians, who won eight gold medals for India at the Olympics would have enjoyed the same superstar status as our current cricketers and not lead the kind of lives that many of them are leading now. The Indian government and sports authorities have not done enough to recognise their contribution to Indian sports.
Their most prized possession is their gold medals and the respect which all the Indian sports fans have for them. Taking away the status of national game from hockey, the sport to which they have devoted their lives, would be the most unfair thing to do to them as well to the numerous sports fans of the country. There may be a time after, say 20 years, when Indian football team, or maybe Indian tennis stars come out as world beaters. We all would love such a thing to happen but would it mean that we again change our national game to football or tennis? Surely, no! So why do it to cricket today?
To be frank and true, the being the national game, or for that matter the national animal, national flower, etc., etc., serves only one purpose – securing one mark to the primary standard students in their General Knowledge examination. So why hurt the feelings of those many legends of hockey for just that one mark?