Since the last decade or so, Indian kids have had an option of choosing their favorite sport for the first time. Till the '90s cricket was the sole sport religion in India. Yeah, you could say hockey is the national sport and blah and blah but nothing ever beat the buzz of a crunch cricket match.
With the advent of all-year round football, starting with the English Premier League, followed by the Bundesliga, Serie A and most recently, the Spanish La Liga sport enthusiasts have found a new first love... so much that any kid around the age of 15 would rather spend a few grand on his favorite football team's jersey than on a Team India jersey. It was the same case with me. Around 9 years ago, I was all cricket in the 9th Grade. But then came the English Premier League. And believe me, football trumps cricket any day, everyday.
Let me tell you why...
Firstly, football is a continuous game. The only boring stoppages in a game are for goal kicks and throw-ins. Others like goals, free-kicks, corners, etc. arouse a sense of excitement in most cases. 90 minutes divided into 2 action packed halves of 45 minutes each. Time flies by and its barely 2 hours spent per match. Also, there's a very distinct factor of unpredictability in football. You can never know when a goal will be scored, or when a harsh tackle will have a player sent off.
One-Day cricket on the other hand, is a 100 over game split into 50 over innings which last roughly 3 hours each at an average of 14 overs an hour. Yes, its exciting at times, but, I can't help snooze off between an innings. Its painful to watch a bowler make a run up, bowl the delivery, watch the batsman play and wait the bowler take a slow painful walk back to his run-up starting point only to repeat it 50 X 6 = 300 times in an innings and 600 times in a standard ODI. Moreover, the game lasts 6 and a half to 7 hours on an average. Either you spend 6 hours watching the same thing over and over again or you watch part of the match which is just as pointless.
Secondly, football is a club-dominated game rather than a nation-dominated game. Club football takes precedence... always (well... almost). The point is that with Top Tier National leagues, national knock-out cup tourneys and European Championships, every weekend is new. Your favorite club will rarely play the same opponent twice in the same month, or even quarter of a year. Unless, of course its the last knock-out stages of the European cups which showcase nothing but the very best clubs on both ends of the pitch. So no complaints there. Plus, there are transfers that see players moving from one club to another in the blink of an eye. One moment, he'f your favorite player, the next day he plays for another club, possibly a fierce rival. Its that sort of thing that gives you the kick (pun intended).
Contrarily, cricket is a nation dominated sport. National teams battle it out against other countries in long, sometimes over-stretched series' against the same nation. You might have an occasional tri-series but nothing too exciting until the world cup. I'm sorry, but, I'm not going to spend 6 hours each on a 7 match ODI series of India against the same England 11. How much more monotonous can it get??
However, it would be wrong to suggest that football has taken over from cricket as the primary fanatic sport of India. But, among the urban sections of the society, yes, a high octane football match brings a bigger buzz than the climax of a long ODI series.
Also, I will add that an Indian kid's passion for his country's cricket team knows no bounds during big international tournaments like the World Cup and Champions Trophy. I cite this from personal experience... I am not a big cricket follower but I was proud to lose my voice cheering Team India on to a memorable victory vs. Australia at the Motera Stadium in Quarter Final of the 2011 World Cup.
Yeah, I love football. But its always Team India time during the World Cup.
- Pratik Gupta