CRICKET IN INDIA it's not a sport, it's a religion

By Tarryn Kelly

With thanks to Akanksha Kashyap

Cricket in India isn't just a sport, it's a religion, a commodity, a way of life, and it's unanimously agreed throughout India that cricket has united the country.

Just as you immediately notice the flowers on the highways of Singapore, or the croissants in the bakeries of France, cricket is something that you just can’t escape when in India.

It's everywhere.

Mumbai is a city of 23 million people and is the financial capital of India. However, when you arrive in Mumbai the first thing you drive past, is Asia's second largest slum - Dharavi. Tiny little houses are littered everywhere. The little houses are made up of all shapes and sizes, but there is one thing each little house has in common: a satellite dish.

I asked the cab driver, how is it that they all have satellite dishes in such poor living conditions? He looked back at me and gave me a one word answer:

Prasad is a husband and father of two who is proud to claim that he has been coaching cricket for over for nine years. In India, his occupation comes with immense respect. He describes his day as being one of a very consistent cycle: eat, cricket, sleep and repeat.

“Cricket is a big part of my life, I can’t do anything without it. I tried to earn money through different sources, but couldn’t continue, because I kept coming back to cricket. Cricket, like most Indians, is my passion.”

“If you go to the Hindu temples, no one is there. If you go to the cricket fields, everyone is there.”
"Any caste plays cricket... when you play cricket it unites you."

When in India, if you are ever short for conversation simply ask, “do you follow the cricket?”

Faces will immediately light up as the conversation turns to discussing international cricket and IPL (Indian Premier League Cricket).

However, if you are ever short for conversation and use the words, 'India vs Pakistan' - smiling will immediately cease.

You'll find most people respond with something along the lines of:

"Cricket against Pakistan isn’t a game, it’s a war."

An international cricket player, who has requested to remain anonymous, recalled of a time when their team was playing a test series against Pakistan in Pakistan. India won each game within the series. After returning to India, they were welcomed home with warm arms. They went straight through security, no bags were checked, and their luggage was swiftly carried through customs. As they walked through to the passenger arrivals, they were greeted by an entourage of people who were cheering and congratulating them on their victory. They were celebrities.

The next test series however, was quite a different story. They still won the series; however, this time they lost one of the three matches. After returning to India, they were greeted with quite a different scene. A thorough security check, made to carry their own bags and of course, there was no welcoming crowd upon arrival.

"It's important to win a game. But when it is against Pakistan, it is the icing on the cake."
The population of India is 1.2 billion - one seventh of the world’s population. Representing India for a team consisting of only 18 players, is a tremendous feat.

Nilish Kilkarni is one such person who was fortunate enough to represent India in cricket on an international level. Not a day goes by where Nilish doesn’t acknowledge how privileged he feels to have made the team.

“What you dream for, what you work for, the hours and hours of practice that you put in, the sacrifices you make, the compromises you put in, it gives you immense satisfaction when you wear that cap.”

Photo credit (From left to right): CricketFundas, Alchetron & Deccan Chronicle.

“I was one of the few lucky ones, it is every cricket players dream in India to represent his country. I was lucky enough to have a family who actually supported me, because my dream was very unconventional for Indian families to actually allow their children to pursue a career in cricket."

“The most satisfying moment, was the day I got that cap. There are 29 states, where hundreds of thousands of people play cricket. I feel privileged and fortunate enough to be part of an Indian team and where I can wear that cap proudly, that’s my proudest moment.”
Exchanging stories with Nilish Kilkarni at the Mumbai Cricket Association Club.

Nilish's international career got off the mark in impressive fashion. On the day of his first ever international test match, which happened to be against Sri Lanka, he got a wicket on his first bowl.

“You just can not ask for that kind of script. One in a million would be lucky enough for that to have happened and I feel that honoured to be that person.”

Nilish’s career could be compared to something of a fairytale. Playing with him since the tender age of 15 years, Nilish has always been a good friend of Sachin Tendilkar. Nilish then carried on to play alongside Sachin during his glory days.

Holding a number of records and acknowledged as one of the best batsmen the world has ever seen, in India, Sachin Tendulkar is known as the holy grail of cricket. (Photo credit:
“What Sachin did was a huge satisfaction and pleasure to millions of people; I don’t think you can find a better role model across any sport.”

“The way he has conducted his entire twenty four years of cricket and before that, for me that is a classic example of a perfect role model of a sportsman. The way he conducts himself, the way he approaches the game, the way he plays the game, the way he goes on to execute from his mistakes."

“To describe him in one word, Sachin Tendulkar is an institution all by himself. I personally feel that God has sent him to do all the miracles.”

For Indian cricket players, with the enormous privilege comes enormous responsibility. Talking to people throughout India, you learn that cricketers aren’t seen as sporting legends or even role models.

To many people, they are seen as Gods and the pressure to act accordingly is enormous. This means, while there is the pressure to perform well on field, there are also certain expectations that cricket players need to fulfill off field.
“It makes it more challenging as a player, to hold so much responsibility on and off the field. However, if you can handle all the pressures successfully, you will become a legend forever.”
“Your conduct on and off the field impacts the future generation.”
“I have encountered a number of instances where people did not like my performance or the teams performance – you just have to take it in your stride.”
“In India, you’re as good as the current game or the next game.”

“Sport teaches you life. Sport teaches you discipline, sport teaches you education, sport teaches you how to accept failure and it teaches you leadership qualities."

“Sport helps you overcome challenges – accepting failure and bouncing back from the failure... because that will help you start brilliantly against all the adversities in your life."

For most high performing athletes, their career comes with an expiry date. Sooner or later, their glory days will come to an end and the time will come for them to hang up their international uniform and rewatch their sporting highlights rather than create new ones.

For Nilish, his story was no different. He retired from international cricket in 2010 at the age of 37. But his glory days are not behind him, as a matter of fact, they are yet to come.

With the disciplines he learnt in his sporting career, Nilish continues to be an inspiration to all in India as he uses his cricketing prowess to write a new chapter in the pages of India’s sporting history. In only seven years Nilish has moved on to introducing India’s first sport’s management institute - IISM - at the University of Mumbai.

Due to the exceptionally competitive environment, most people are unable to represent India for cricket on the highest level. This program introduced by Nilesh still provides them the means to pursue their dream. With over 600 hundred students, the program has flourished within two years and this success is only expected to grow.

“The kind of population we have, the kind of opportunities we are creating, the kind of establishments which have been founded in the last three or four years, they do make me believe that people will look at India as the next big sporting destination.”
“For a sport to evolve in India, the grass roots structure is the most critical part and a lot of people are investing their time, effort and money in the development aspect so that we can start seeing the results.”
“It is the actual team of people who make them try and help them achieve their goal. That industry is growing and maturing and that is the space which we as a management team are developing.”
“Cricket unites the whole of India – whether you are talking about the poorest of the poor or the richest of the rich.I think the entirety of India is undoubtedly going to be the next big thing in sports.”
Created By
Tarryn Kelly

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