New Delhi: Let us discuss some numbers first. India's gross domestic product grew at 7.7 per cent in the March quarter, the fastest growing economy in the world, and there is only one thing that has pushed this consistently: cricket.
Viraat Kohli is the new God of Cricket, replacing the venerated, diminutive Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, who retired in 2013 and was once widely considered to be an all-time great. When he played, Tendulkar was — all five feet and five inches of him, an Indian colossus on the world stage. Now, Kohli is in his slot, Indian cricket - sports cognoscenti argue - is in safe hands.
Thanks to the game, those in it and those watching it, cricket in India is economy first and religion next.
The just concluded Indian Premier League (IPL), the world's richest cricket league, has just ended with huge investments, consistent ratings, massive brand imagery and never seen before returns.
If you are still not getting it, then you must read Boria Majumdar's Eleven Gods and A Billion Indians. Only then you will realise how cricket has shaped Indian economy, contributing a little over $800 million to India's GDP, the amount more than the GDP of neighbouring nations like Bhutan and Maldives. Interestingly, there are 195 countries in the world and almost 30 countries of them, have GDP equal to what was spent in the latest edition of IPL this year. So, its clear that cricket's contribution to the Indian economy goes way beyond the ticket sales. Employment is generated across sectors and tourism shapes up and happiness becomes the index of mine like people of Bhutan.
Cricket, claims Boria, has helped India climb to the top of the game's economy and go-politics. India, for more than a decade, is the economic powerhouse of the willow game. Cricket, rightly writes the game's cristorian - nice nickname, isn't it? - is the face of India's total transformation in a sport played by less than 20 nations. The writer in his book, that has shattered records at the charts like a Ramesh Sippy Sholay, says India's self-belief in the game was always there but, of late, the Blue Billion Express has been consistent as well.
It is no longer India's cricket, it is Asia's, the world's game which India dominates, the Men in Blue playing in front of large, passionate crowds. Boria makes it clear in his book that there is promise of more Indian days to come.
My personal interaction with Boria started when I was in Outlook, and crystallised when I was with ESPN Star Sports. He always offered great anecdotal stories, including one about a tiger spotted near the majestic Eden Gardens. I was too shy to ask him the date, must be some generations ago. He has stayed on course and seeped deep into the game, even doing piece to cameras sitting on a pitch roller at the Eden Gardens. It was Boria who discovered Dalmiya before Dalmiya discovered himself. The soft-spoken cricket administrator gave all the cash cricket in India deserved, shifted the focus from the Lords to New Delhi (read Kolkata) and turned India into an economic powerhouse. Thanks to Boria, I spent many days at Dalmiya’s simple office in the heart of Kolkata listening to his stories, his fights, his pains.
The book has some amazing stories about Ganguly never told before. Its an achievement because everyone in Kolkata knows everything about Ganguly, an amazing brand with high recall value even in post-retirement. And lets not forget Ganguly himself got his book published with the help of the affable Gautam Bhattacharya some months ago.
But this one from Boria has got some great numbers, trending high. Eleven Gods and A Billion Indians, I was told last week, is now a standard read for all school students across India, including many in colleges. It is a brilliant chronicle of India's cricket history, once the domain of the affable Ramachandra Guha and poker-faced, London-based Mihir Bose who Bishen Singh Bedi, the former Indian cricket captain, always hated for being too English and less Indian.
I am not too much into cricket, but was strangely offered to do Bengali commentary with the Star Sports team for this edition of IPL (I am still reeling under the impact) but did spend time on this one. Boria's book is a fascinatingly cool read, thanks to his easy access to the inner circle of the cricketing greats, both past and present. That's a great connect, almost like knowing the entire Cabinet of PM Narendra Modi, you will be loved by every editor in town.
There is a long spell of the historical element of Indian cricket, the tome delves into the way the British propagated the game. But once the big buck matches start with those 16 or 17 odd cameras, Boria's stories read like Big Boys Playing In Night. That he has followed the game is evident from his deep knowledge, personal, historical and contemporary.
Cricket has always fascinated Boria, I remember how he called me up in midnight from the West Indies to say in a very, very hushed tone: "Brian Lara has retired from first class cricket". He has treated each cricketing God with respect. I fondly called him Professor, the man with loads of knowledge. May his book spread awareness of India’s Gods among India’s Billion plus population.