In a country of 1.3 billion people, it is estimated that when India’s national cricket side plays a big game, such as India versus Pakistan, around 400 million people watch the game on television. And that was according to a survey in 2014. That figure is higher than the current population of the United States at 329 million. If we add the population of the United Kingdom, which is around 66.5 million, it almost comes up to the Indian viewership of a single game of cricket. Imagine these two nations doing nothing but watching a sport on TV for more than eight hours!
An average estimation of the viewership of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2015, which is the 15th most-watched television broadcast in the world, shows India alone constituted 635 million viewers of the total 1.5 billion.
According to the Guardian, over a billion people watched the India-Pakistan group match in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.
The movie ‘Lagaan’, set in 1893, portrayed a groundbreaking story of an Indian village where the locals were forced to pay high taxes (lagaan) under the British Raj (rule). With the unusual turn of events, the then British commanding officer was forced to leave the village and the locals were also spared the taxes for the coming years since they defeated the foreigners in a cricket match. The film showcased a deeper scenario that inflicted intense emotions that couldn’t be confined to a mere cricket match. The movie depicts a time when Pakistan was half a century away from being separated from India. It can be seen as a game they played together against the British.
Come to the present, India and Pakistan are the biggest rivals in the sport. England may have introduced cricket in India, a sport that finds its first occurrence in 1721 when the mariners of the East India Company “sailed” to a place called Cambay to enjoy games of cricket. With time, Indians adopted the game as their own and by the time it was played internationally on a professional level, India was all set to compete. As Ashis Nandy succinctly puts it in his book ‘Tao of Cricket’, “Cricket is an Indian game accidentally discovered by the British.”
While India played its first ever Test match in 1932, at Lord’s cricket ground in England, Pakistan stepped into Test cricket in October 1952 when they toured India for a five-match series. Ever since that historic day, the rivalry between the two nations has been epic, even greater than the Ashes, which is played between England and Australia.
The year 1947 marked the separation of the two nations, and within five years, a cricketing rivalry was established that has gone on for over seven decades. For many years, the two countries were able to maintain a ‘sport diplomacy’ and carry on playing each other with hints of drama on and off the field.
But the recent years have seen extreme political tension and that has led to a situation where the arch-rivals don’t play each other any more. It’s been six years since the two teams, with the most passionate cricket fans in the world, played a bilateral series among them. An India versus Pakistan fixture has become a once-in-a-year affair during ICC events or series like the Asia Cup.
And nothing unites the countrymen to their individual patriotism like an India-Pakistan game. Till date, every cricket fan from both countries waits for that one big clash to rejoice the dance all over again.
The legendary Kapil Dev-Imran Khan clash of the titans, Javed Miandad’s last ball six off Chetan Sharma in 1986, Sachin Tendulkar’s antics against Pakistan, that misplaced scoop shot by Misbah-ul-Haq in the 2007 World T20 final that made India the champions, when Virat Kohli hit his first hundred against Pakistan or Shahid Afridi sharing a cordial relationship with his Indian counterparts off the field. All these examples show that the clashes have always been eventful and are an integral part of international cricket.
The International Cricket Council has accepted the fact that in every tournament, the first thing they do is freeze the India vs Pakistan game and then groups are decided around those games. Four years ago, in 2015, when India and Pakistan met at the Adelaide Oval for a world cup match, the excitement was uncontainable. Over 1 billion people, which is two-thirds of the combined population, watched the broadcast of the game that India won, establishing a 6-0 win record against Pakistan in the cricket world cup. The viewership record finds its name in Wikipedia’s list of most-watched television broadcasts.
Work productivity during matches
Just like the ICC sets its world cup schedule around the India-Pakistan match, in India, every time a cricket game unfolds between the two nations, all eyes are glued to the TV sets. People who are out on the roads move to the nearest restaurant or shop or wherever they find a television since every TV set is fixed to the channel broadcasting the ‘big’ fixture. The ones who are travelling listen to the commentary on the radio, or switch to mobile app streaming. The story is the same beyond the border. In fact, they’re more invested in the game. Especially during a world cup game because despite a dominating ODI record of Pakistan over India, they haven’t won any clash against their nemesis in the big tournament.
We all know about the time Barack Obama addressed an NRI crowd in the USA saying, “I don’t know about cricket, but still I watch cricket to see Sachin play. Not because I love his play it, but because I want to know the reason why my country’s production goes down by five per cent when he’s in batting!” And that’s just the work productivity of the United States. The impact on the work productivity of the two nations during an India-Pakistan game, especially when Sachin batted, was much much higher.
Even now, as India have established themselves as the stronger team and with Tendulkar retired, the craze hasn’t wavered much. One can still cite the game for people bunking classes or office. Meetings get postponed as colleagues get together in the office canteen to rejoice the competition between the two teams. Sometimes it gets extreme in Pakistan.
For many years, Pakistani fans have been known to break their TV sets on an occasion when their team loses to the Men in Blue in an important game. Something similar happened in 2015 when India defeated Pakistan to continue their undefeated run in the World Cup. It was reported that Pakistan fans in Multan smashed their televisions in anger after their team lost.
Come to today, with less than a week left for the India-Pakistan clash, the tension has worsened and the cricket diplomacy has been compromised due to adverse situations. In fact, the BCCI wanted to withdraw the Indo-Pak game but the ICC rejected the petition. Let’s see how many people tune in for the match on June 16.