We did it again! After 28 years, the Indian cricket team triumphed in the cricket World Cup. While in 1983 we won against the run of play and more because of sheer pluck, provided by Kapil Dev’s brave leadership, this year it was all so different. From the beginning, it was apparent, given the new-found chutzpah of a nation riding on the aspirations of a young population (60% is below 35 years of age), familiar home conditions, composition of the team and the state of the opposition, it was a World Cup for India to lose.
The big point is that how did we come to such a pass, where the win was so taken for granted. It was not the usual bravado, but a reflection of the growing self-belief of a nation that has emerged from the shadows. This is apparent if you connect these two seemingly different end points. It tells the story of India’s economic and social transformation and defines the political economy of the dream win in Mumbai.
In 1983, as some of us would recall, most of India saw the victory mostly on black and white television sets; it was just a year after colour television was launched in India in synch with the Asian Games in 1982. Worse, India hardly figured in the scheme of things and, hence, it was not surprising that the country figured only partially in the footprint of the satellite servicing the Asian region. As a result, transmission of the match was not continuous and we just about saw Kapil Dev’s brilliant catch of Vivian Richards—eventually the turning point of the match.
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Contrast this with what transpired on Saturday, where sponsors were falling over each other to monetize the one billion-plus eyeballs. Not only was the match available in entirety, available even over the Internet or mobile phones, it was critical for the success of business model—imagine if India had not played the final.
The surprising win in 1983 coincided with the baby steps that the government undertook to unshackle the economy, till then dominated by myriad controls and its autarchic nature. The economic crisis of 1991, became a trigger to accelerate these reform initiatives, resulting in the big burst of reforms that not only created the space for the emergence of an entire generation of entrepreneurs, especially in information technology and telecom, but also rapidly integrated the country into the global economy.
The size of the economy today is estimated at $1.7 trillion and will only grow bigger. Along with China, this region is now rapidly becoming the centre of the world. Money talks. It is not a coincidence that the US and China, the two foremost economies in the world, between them account for a bulk of the global sports spoils. While there is always space for individual brilliance, systemic success in sporting events such as the Olympics work best for economic powerhouses.
The first cut of data from Census 2011, unveiled last week, gives us a glimpse of the new India that has fewer illiterates, though it also includes a shocking expose of deep-rooted prejudices against the girl child.
Looking at it in this way, we understand as to why last year was the year of Indian sport. While cricket is the inevitable gorilla in the room, Indians have begun to win top billing in other sports too—Saina Nehwal’s incredible run in world badminton being just one such example. In fact, last year Mint had published a special issue saying that 2010 was the turning point for Indian sport.
India’s win on Saturday, therefore, captures and means much more than the feel-good emotion. It is not a flash in the pan. Instead, it is the outcome of several things coming together and is, in all likelihood, the beginning of a new trend. The new economic energy combined with the younger demography is creating a potent force.
Take the cricket team that won the World Cup for the second time. Like Dhoni, most of the team members were born after, or just around the time India recorded its first win in 1983; a team in which Sachin Tendulkar at 37 years is considered a geriatric. Generation Y, therefore, has known nothing but winning. Together with the new economy, with all its associated opportunities, it is only natural that it has given flight to aspirations as well as an amazing notion of self-belief; so well captured by the disdainful six that Dhoni hit to get with four runs to win.
A new India has signalled that it is taking charge.
Anil Padmanabhan is a deputy managing editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org