In spite of my obvious obsession with cricket, I watched the 2010 Football World Cup enthralled. I do not understand the intricacies of football as well as I do of cricket, cannot fathom the ebbs and flows going on in the field. For instance, I though the Argentina-Germany quarter-final was a great match, till I read the reviews next day that it never touched the highs expected from such a titanic clash.
The reason I started following football is of because of one man displayed next. I was too young to stay awake and understand his greatness in the 1986 World Cup at Mexico, but whatever little I caught of him at 1990 and then 1994 before his banishment, was enough for me to convert to the gala event held every four years. I still root for Argentina (the above-mentioned match broke my heart, especially as they can be now considered the perrenial under-achievers like Spain, Portugal and Holland), and will follow the 2014 World Cup mainly for Messi. But for all his flaws and genius, it is difficult to take Maradona out of my system. In fact, in some corner of the heart, I was happy that France lost, at least it allowed Zidane to only equal Maradona, not surpass him (one World Cup victory, one runners-up).
To figure out why football has such a huge following, I leave you with the excerpts from Harsha Bhogale below, trust this man to articulate what I want to say:
The World Cup has been a beautiful, frustrating, exhilarating, cathartic experience, as much for those on the field as for others like us, watching from a distance. For a month we were captive, we became consumers, we became subjects of study; the money spent on football and footballers was aimed at capturing us.
And so, while we learnt a great deal about Zidane and Cannavaro, about Brazil and England, we learnt a bit about ourselves and to me, nothing captured it more than a seemingly stray remark by a friend, now a senior corporate head. "I think this World Cup has been a tipping point," he said. "By the time the football world cup of 2010 and the cricket world cup of 2011 come around, I don't think there will be a huge difference in advertising rates charged by television companies."
People who spend know the value of the product they buy. And corporate India spends fairly wisely. My friend knew what he was talking about since he has to take decisions on spending the money that his products earn. What does it mean for cricket then? Are we seeing, if only once in four years, some much needed competition for cricket?
If I was running Indian cricket today, I would study the implications of the phenomenal following of this World Cup. The first thing it shows up is that a huge part of our television audience is now more globally aligned than ever before. Young men and women today are going to become, if they aren't already, citizens of the world, their preferences will be more global. And there is no more global game than football.
Part of the attraction of football, apart from the tactical battles fought, is its brevity and the ability to be easily understood. You may not know what foul earns a red card, what earns a yellow and why some are not worth anything at all; you may not know when players are off-side and when they are not; but you can follow the drift of the game and after ninety minutes you know who has won and who hasn't. Football is perfect for those who seek a 2-3 hour entertainment package, especially one that has no artificial effects and poor scripts.
It is imperative today, not tomorrow, that cricket pays heed to this; recognises this changing face of India, respects it and launches the product that is tailor-made for it. It is no longer a question of whether or not India plays 20-20 cricket, it is a question of when, of how quickly.