Hard as it is to imagine, there was less of a buzz about the one off Twenty20 international between India and England than there was when Lionel Messi landed in India for the Argentina v Venezuela match.
Cricket took a backseat on a rare occasion that the country has been caught in the midst of the euphoria over the preliminary success of Anna Hazare’s campaign against corruption in India and also, with the double festival coincidence of Eid at the conclusion of Ramadan and the onset of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. However, those were not the only reasons.
The Indian cricket team’s performances in the recently concluded India England Test series have been woeful with India losing the series in a 4-0 whitewash and also, losing their hold on the no.1 Test team title. It was a huge let down for Indian cricket fans warming up once more for another grueling cricket season since India played last as a team in lifting the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011.
In light of that, there was a more sobering build up to the one Twenty20 match. And instead it was time for football to capture the headlines, which is rare unless there is a controversy which stirs still less interest than cricket does. This time, however, there is excitement, particularly at the Salt Lake Stadium area in Kolkata where Argentina are to play the ‘Cinderella’ team as it were in Venezuela who have never featured in a football World Cup.
The hype has been enhanced by the fact that the match will take up in the football crazy part of the country that is Kolkata which is why Sourav Ganguly, the former Indian captain, has stood out as their popularly cricketing icon. However, even Dada would be excited by the prospect as the Argentina captain for the match, Lionel Messi, arrived later than the rest of the team.
Naturally given Messi’s worldwide fan following, it was only natural that his landing in India would create more news waves than the beleaguered Indian cricket team playing a Twenty20 match in England. After all, India have had more than their fill of Twenty20 with the IPL 4 season which was given a lukewarm response by the fans this year and perhaps as a rare chance, it was time to shift focus to football given that Indian football has rarely received the kind of fillip that this match between two South American countries is getting.
It is not everyday that cricket is given a run for its money. But on this occasion, the rare sighting of football stars from across the globe in a country where football thirsts for attention is a remarkable sporting spectacle no less. Although cricket continues to be the dominant sport, it would be nice to have India develop a more acquired taste if other sports are given a similar fillip. Perhaps it is something that the Indian government and the sports ministry under Ajay Maken should seriously look into judging by the mass mania created by watching another Argentine legend after Diego Maradona who visited India shortly after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in 2008.
The September 2nd encounter is expected to see an outpouring of football fans, and one could be forgiven for thinking that cricket has bitten the dust. Fret not, for cricket will once again be in the limelight come Saturday – despite the England Premier League encounters that some of the Indian cricketers, including the Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, seem to have enjoyed on the sidelines. But first cricket gives way briefly to Football Fever on Friday.