If the end of 50-over cricket’s World Cup sparked off a serious and emotionally charged debate about what Mr Bumble had said in Oliver Twist ages earlier, that the “law is a ass, a idiot,” England, Charles Dickens’ own country, simply bypassed the New Zealand point of view to gush about a seemingly inevitable, welcome shot in the arm for the game in its homeland.
Rather than get into a verbal back and forth in which their argumentative platform might not be as weighty and solid as one of today’s bats off which edges race to the boundary, they have preferred appearing decent and minding their own business, which is selling cricket to John Bull. Now John is quite likely to be just as bullheaded today as he has always been but he is only one half of the picture.
The other bit, of course, is to do with how delectably they lay it out for him. The point is that the offering has to be better than what the English Premier League of football lures him with, week in and week out. And thereby hangs a tale. There was a time when England, having set the World Cup going in 1975, was tethered to the belief that it would never be taken anywhere else. And it liked the tournament in an art-for-art’s-sake way. By today’s standards, it was a world of complete and absolute innocence.
Money-making sub-plots came to be bunged in once the sub-continental power duo of India and Pakistan unlocked the world of the Cup’s commercial possibilities in 1987. Neither managed to win it that year but each made the traditional powers’ jaws hit the floor.
After that, southern Asia rose, as did its cricketing income, in every way, and the game boomed here. One reason why it has been so spectacularly successful across the subcontinent is that cricket faces no competition in these parts. India did win the hockey World Cup in 1975 but that did not persuade business to favour it with any large-scale bounty
Also, television’s incursion into the equation had yet to happen. Football all over the subcontinent has shot itself in the foot, preferring that to having the ball at its feet. Putatively pro leagues of several other disciplines, including the very popular ones of badminton and kabaddi, have sprung up in India all right but cricket, we all know, is way above these chance-and-chutzpah examples of entrepreneurship.
A complete contrast prevails in England, however, where football, warts and all, reigns supreme. It is not as if the EPL is always in the highest aristocracy of the game, no matter how glibly club football’s superiority is sought to be drummed into our ears every hour, on the hour. It is just that nothing succeeds like success. Well might English cricket have a go but football in England could take some unseating.