Home / Opinion / Why I don’t support the Indian cricket team

I really don’t care whether or not India win the World Cup. Yes, I’m a cricket fan and no, I really don’t care. Here’s why.

The question on my mind has always been this: How does one square the near-virulent antipathy towards the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) with support—even adulation or idolatry—for the team that wears its logo?

This is not India, this is the BCCI’s team.

The BCCI today, in India and in the eyes of the cricketing world, is a discredited organization, whose various administrative decisions over the past five-odd years are the subject of judicial and governmental scrutiny. It is rotten at the top; so rotten in fact that the top exists at the mercy of the Supreme Court. Am I am supposed to place my unflinching, unquestioning loyalty in the team and system it controls so tightly?

Well, I opted out long ago. I don’t know what that makes me, in this age when hidebound loyalties are sought for almost every human pursuit. I don’t support any cricket team in particular; I enjoy watching the game as a contest. It has freed me, to an extent, because I can watch any team play for the sheer pleasure of it. And if that team plays and beats the Indian team, so be it.

Most of my friends couldn’t bear to watch India’s tour of Australia last year but I could enjoy Mitchell Johnson’s bowling and Steven Smith’s batting. I can enjoy this World Cup because my fan investment is spread across the board; I will end up a winner whoever wins. Even if it’s England or Pakistan.

I suppose what I’m really rebelling against is the idea that one must support this India team because it represents our nation. Which is, of course, rubbish. This team represents a private trust, worth several thousand crores of rupees. It doesn’t help that there is no freedom of choice; the only alternative in the past few decades, the Indian Cricket League, was stamped out without ceremony a couple of years ago. And then there’s the jingoism that being an Indian cricket fan involves.

This sort of nationalism is not new, or unique to India. As writer George Orwell noted, the ancient Olympics saw sport as a tool for peace, but modern “serious sport"—which he famously called “war minus the shooting"—came about during the Industrial Revolution, when “games were built up into a heavily-financed activity, capable of attracting vast crowds and rousing savage passions, and the infection spread from country to country".

In India we were inoculated against it till we had something to shout about—in the form of the world-beating trio of Viswanathan Anand, Leander Paes and Sachin Tendulkar, backed by growing financial clout. Anand was the multiple world champion who evoked traditional Indian virtues even as an expatriate in Spain; Paes started the trend of chest-thumping patriotism, which fuelled his Davis Cup exploits; and Tendulkar, by simply placing the tricolour on his helmet, made his loyalties clear. The birth of the Internet—significantly, on American campuses populated by expatriate Indians—and its spread allowed Everyman a platform to voice his opinion.

It helped that the cricket was decent too, especially after Sourav Ganguly and John Wright took over.

But success breeds its own problems. The growing cricket economy was pegged closely to the fortunes of the Indian team; when it stumbled, the world took a fall. Most famously at the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies, when India were unceremoniously turfed out at the first stage. Indian cricket needed ring-fencing from its own frailties and the sponsors needed an assurance of an Indian team in the final stages of global tournaments. Within months was born a high-profile, big-money tournament at which an Indian team was assured of victory. Enter the Indian Premier League.

What the BCCI was asking its fans to do was divide their loyalties between its own “national" team and an artificially created city-based entity (also owned by it but rented out to various business interests). That, we were told, was how the great football leagues worked.

Football clubs in England and across the world were born primarily as working men’s social organizations—which explains their mushrooming in industrial hubs—and then as an outlet for those working men to go and watch the sport. In time the bonds became strong; so strong that loyalty to club often overrode loyalty to the national team. Towards the end of the last century, though, the system was inverted. Football was no longer the sport of the working classes, but big business. It was gentrified, with better and safer all-seater stadiums and family-centric facilities to widen the net. There was a hefty bill, though, and the cost was that the game was soon priced out of the reach of the masses.

Imagine the plight of the fans—people who had spent their lives pledging their loyalty to one colour, one jersey. Your game is taken away from you. You can’t afford to follow your club any more, the tickets are too expensive. In some cases the club itself is physically uprooted, sold and relocated miles away. The money you’ve spent over years on that institution suddenly counts for nothing; you’re an investor but not a stakeholder.

In some cases, the fans struck back. When the Wimbledon Football Club, near London, relocated for business reasons to Milton Keynes 80-odd kilometres away, the fans stayed back and set up their own club, AFC Wimbledon, which today plays one division lower than the stepbrother. A few years later they helped fans of Manchester United, who were unhappy with the club’s takeover by the American Glazer family. The breakaway fans voted with their feet, setting up FC United of Manchester (FCUM), which is owned by all its supporters. It was called “punk football", a reference to how punk music was all about fans reclaiming their music from the diktats of record companies.

One of the FCUM founders, Andy Walsh, explained the philosophy. “What is it you love about United? It’s not the board, or the moneymaking … What you defended was your experience of going to United with your friends and family. It was the sense of belonging…And we discovered we could take that with us."

The loyalty is to the game, as it should be. If you’re looking for war, join the army.

Jayaditya Gupta is the executive editor of Espncricinfo.

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