Even cricket can impart doses of liberal education. The final game with West Indies in the one-day series has led to a thumping victory for the Caribbeans. Our newspapers are however at their snooty best. One of them offers the headline, “Unfancied West Indies win”. Pray, “unfancied” by whom' It is we Indians who did the analysis and provided the advance verdict on the outcome of the match and of the series. Going by actual recent performance, there was hardly anything to choose between the Indian and the West Indies teams. Earlier in the year, in West Indies, the home team won the test series two to one, while it was the other way round in the one day internationals.
The results have been reversed during the West Indies tour over here. It was a closely fought series, and the final one-day encounter could at best have been dubbed as one that could have been won by either side. The home media think otherwise. In their view, the actual result is a sort of quirk, because of a particularly devastating performance, all of a sudden, by a hitherto nondescript West Indies batsman, and also because of the Indian team being off-colour that day.
Such fatuity has one obvious explanation: the frog-in-the-well mentality of a nation still under the spell of a colonial haze and, hemmed in by the frustration of non-success in many spheres, eager to imagine themselves as a species capable of performing Herculean tasks. Indians by and large, let us admit, are congenital blubberers. The more insignificant the actual achievement, the greater is the indulgence in self-delusion. One or two stray little successes and we begin to take ourselves to be world-beaters.
A deeper causality too is at work though where the West Indies are concerned. The population of the entire West Indies, the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles, the Bahamas and Guyana, all put together, will not add up to 10 million, that is, not even to one per cent of the population of India. And yet, whether judged by cricket history spanning over the past century or in terms of the record since the end of World War II, West Indies cricketers have been an inspiration to the other cricket-playing non-white nations. Their skill, the majesty of their technique and the dazzle of their performance have enthralled millions over the entire world. During the past decade, things have not gone that swimmingly for the West Indies, but this is likely to be only a temporary phase, a new generation of cricketers is fast coming up.
The last decade has however been marked by another phenomenon: the emergence of a dizzy global consumer market. That the people of the West Indies in the aggregate do no constitute even one per cent of our own population emerges as a crucial datum in this context. True, the per capita income of the Caribbeans is at least five times higher than that of the average Indian on an international scale of comparison. On the other hand, thanks to the skewed structure of income distribution and developments over the last 10 years or thereabouts, at least 15 per cent of all Indians earn much more than the average West Indies citizen does. And this 15 per cent of the Indian population represents a market for goods and services whose strength is perhaps 50 times superior to the market the entire West Indies can offer.
Leave out a once-in-a-blue-moon Tendulkar or a freak of a Ganguly, Indian cricketers on the average are conceivably not worth to hold a candle to the West Indies cricketers, even when the latter are in their most distressful days. But that is an irrelevance where economics and finance are prime issues. In terms of turnover, India is a much richer, much lusher market for consumer goods, including consumer durables.
The importance of Indian cricketers, especially the best lot of them, is defined by the size and strength of the Indian consumer market. This market has burgeoned in the course of the Nineties and promises to burgeon further in future. If the economic policy package currently in vogue in India is persisted with — and the conflation of political and social factors suggests it will be persisted with — the Indian cricketers will continue to be in high demand. The advertising agencies and manufacturing and trading conglomerates will run after their endorsements. Naturally, the television channels will also greet them with hugs and kisses. Other sections of the media will be equally compliant.
The top Indian cricketers, who at present earn fabulous sums of money, will therefore continue to do so. They will continue to do so even if on occasion they perform miserably in the international arena. For their drawing power does not lie in their cricketing ability; it is in their ability to act as a conduit for the sale of consumer goods in one of the world’s biggest markets.
This is precisely why the criterion for assessing merit has got so topsy-turvy. The Indian cricketers should hold in awe the hugeness of the Indian market which has allowed them to reach the pinnacle of financial success that they have reached. Instead, they themselves are held in awe; they hog the media while the West Indies team members do not. This is only because the Indian market is big and the Caribbean market is a piffle.
Were the distribution of income and assets in the country not so horrendously crooked, and had the so-called economic reforms since 1991 not made this crookedness even more blatant, the Indian market would have continued to be as sluggish as it was a few decades ago: the price that the cricketers fetch- ed would then also have been correspondingly modest. Had the entry of foreign goodies remained under the severest of restrictions, the craze for endorsements by Indian cricketers too would be more muffled.
At the risk of being labelled anti-patriotic, the point therefore has to be made: it is an excellent thing that the Caribbeans have brought down the Indian cricketing ego a peg or two. The snubbing that the Indian players received ought to make them a shade more aware of where they really stand in international ranking in pure cricketing terms.
The larger lesson is however of a much deeper significance: the wealth and affluence our cricketers enjoy are the gift of the country’s poor and dispossessed. It is the ruthless exploitation of the poorer classes which has built the edifice of the formidable Indian consumer market, with some additional assistance from the absurd policies set in motion in the country incorporating the message that only the top 15 per cent of the community matter — the rest are welcome to perish.
Do the above comments sound excessively harsh' This depends on whether we want the nation to grow up or to languish within the narrow confines of a colonial mind-set and a retrograde economic structure. Provided the present pro-rich, pro-comprador system continues to be encouraged, our cricketers may keep losing matches on foreign tours and even surrender to foreign teams on home turf; they will nonetheless continue to mint money. In contrast, should our cricket be transformed, inspired for instance, by a philosophy similar to that sown by C.L.R. James in the Caribbeans, into weaponry against imperialism and class subjugation, our cricketers would be less rich, but immeasurably nobler human beings.