Right now effigies of Indian cricketers are being burned and their families threatened with dire consequences. And for those who want more immediate retribution, lookalikes are being accosted on the streets and subjected to verbal and physical abuse. Grief stricken fans have died of heart attacks. All this because India made a quick and unseemly exit from the Cricket World Cup presently going on in the West Indies, losing to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Done in by their South Asian brethren. A similar fate befell Pakistan as they crashed out losing to Ireland and West Indies.
There have been disgraceful exits and heart breaking losses from international sports that have shaken other countries leading to national tragedies like the death of Andres Escobar after Colombia, a favourite of many to get to the higher rounds of the 1994 World Cup, crashed out. Or the 1980 Miracle on Ice, a team of US underdogs took on the mighty Soviet Union in an ice hockey game in the Lake Placid Winter Olympics, beating them, and going onto win the gold medal. For the Soviets it led to a collective state of shock and despair. The defeat led to more Russian players joining the the lucrative NHL, and some say hastened the collapse of the Soviet Union by 1991.
But nothing compares cricket's hold on the Indian sub-continent. The Cricket World Cup, is a world cup in name only. It should rightly be called the South Asian Cup. There are just 16 teams playing the cup but of these countries, India and Pakistan provide about 70% of the fans and viewership. With these two countries gone, the stadiums in the Caribbean are empty, an indication that even in the host country, cricket does not attract the same fervour as it did a few decades ago, losing ground to the popularity of soccer. There have been thousands of airlines and hotels cancellations, tickets are now selling dirt cheap on Ebay, and companies have pulled their advertisements and sponsorships.
There is every indication that the school going population in India is not as addicted to cricket as their parents generation, brought up on the euphoria of India's version of the Miracle on Ice, the 1983 World Cup win over the mighty West Indies. That euphoria sustained many mediocre Indian teams in their quest to repeat but they only succeeded in failing. The new generation has seen enough to realize that the present group of feckless and overpaid cricketers and certainly cricket as a colonial past-time is out of touch with today's interconnected and globalized world, the essence of which is captured in soccer. Cricket's appeal as a gentleman's game has long ebbed, with the nail in the coffin (an unfortunate expression) the murder of Bob Woolmer, the Pakistani coach, probably done in by a cabal of bookies who actually control cricket nowadays. It is time for India to turn to soccer and the authorities to advocate the sport. For the thousands of Indian youngsters who think watching Arsenal is way cool could all be potential fans of a successful Indian soccer team. And success not defined as a pie in the sky promise as qualifying for the World Cup but more realistically for the next Asian Cup.