Cricket, the Indian money maker. Who’d a thunk it?

Updated: November 11, 2013
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Occasionally my job takes me to India (“What?” you may ask, “Writing one column a week/whenever you feel like it for a sports blog doesn’t result in you being independently wealthy?” I know. I’m as shocked as you are). 

The last time I came here was late May/early June. If I wanted to watch sports I generally had two options: ESPN India almost constantly re-running my beloved Yankees losing something like nine games in twelve days (not only was it a sign of the times, each game was televised about three times a day), or cricket.         

And when I say cricket, I should clarify. The Indian Premiere League’s season had wrapped up and the 2013 International Cricket Council (ICC) Championship was a mere week away.  All countries involved were busy playing tune-ups, or friendlies, or whatever the heck they call exhibition matches. So it’s not like these matches really mattered…but they were literally on twenty-four hours a day. 

On the rare occasion that one channel decided to show soccer, or rugby, or even motorcycle racing, or the re-run of a particular match, everywhere I went people were glued to it.      

Typically, I’d only watch brief snippets of these matches when I couldn’t take the Yankees any longer – usually after witnessing Lyle Overbay end an inning by striking out with the bases loaded, or Girardi inserting Joba Chamberlain into the game a crucial situation.  

Considering the alternative, I should have kept watching. The only problem was it never captured my interest long enough to keep me from switching back – no matter how poorly it looked for the pinstripes. But then I got sick. Like, ridiculously sick. Like a fever that put me flat on my back for two days sick.  Either out of apathy or an inability to find my remote, I decided it was a good time to finally understand the game that everyone was going nuts for over here in India.           

I actually absorbed a lot, but I’ll spare you the intricacies of the game. If you’re really that interested, go to Wikipedia (it’s pretty much what I had to do, anyway). Here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

The speed of cricket occupies a point on the slowness continuum somewhere between beer league softball and the Senior PGA.  Unless you’re the bowler (the guy throwing the ball), you’re not putting in a lot of effort.  The batsmen only have to run twenty-two yards (sixty-six feet) to score a run, and often do so at a leisurely pace.  Given the effort level, the game is perfect for this climate.  Nobody here is too interested in expending a lot of energy.  The other two major events advertised in Pune (for more information on this “small” city where I work, click here) when I first visited were a chess tournament and a ping pong table tennis tournament.  Seriously, it can get so freaking hot here that thinking will make you break a sweat.  Somehow, despite all these factors, all cricket players are in better shape than the majority of baseball players.           

The ball must bounce before it gets to the batsman. The bowler is also trying to get the ball past a guy swinging a large, broad piece of wood and trying to hit one of three wickets to get an out. That’s ridiculous. We’ve all played beer pong – we all know how tough it is to make a bounced shot do what you want. Respect.          

Cricket is played on a field that is either circular or oval and the pitch is in the middle of it. As a result, you can hit the ball behind you and it’s in play.  Repeat: you can hit the ball behind you. It’s not nearly impressive as a six (that’s a homerun in our parlance), but every time I see a batsman purposely do it, my mind still explodes a little.          

A cricket ball is slightly smaller than a baseball, but weighs slightly more, making it denser and infinitely more terrifying…especially when you consider the fielders (except for the wicket keeper) do not wear gloves.  Fielders often drop balls in cricket.  Most idiots who’ve never seen a cricket ball think, “Really?  These guys are professional athletes?”  Yup.  And better them than me. 

And that…is really all I’ve got. Except for one other little fact: the money. I was trying to explain the exorbitant sports salaries in America to a friend and co-worker of mine here, but despite the numbers I gave he wasn’t fazed. “Cricketers are gods here,” he remarked. “They don’t live like everyone else.”

I didn’t buy it – until I did some digging. The biggest base salary in US sports in 2012 was Alex Rodriguez with $30 million (and allow me to take a small A-Rod jab by pointing out the fact that he was number 6 on the list of highest earning American athletes and Jeter was number 9 – with a base salary of $18 million but almost four times the endorsement revenue, speaking volumes about how the public views these two).  

Courtesy of

In India in 2012, the highest salary of a professional cricketer was $3.5 million, paid out to Mahendra Singh Dhoni. It doesn’t seem that outrageous until you look at the GDP per capita of each country.  A-Rod’s contract outweighs his country’s GDP per capita at a rate of 600:1. Staggering. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s contract comes in at a rate of 2,350:1 by comparison. Mind = blown. 

So how excited am I to get back into cricket?  Honestly, I couldn’t tell you – because I can’t tell one freaking match from the next. When I was here before, everything was played in one-day matches for the ICC, but now everything is happening in multi-day tests. These tests can last up to five (5) days. I don’t know if I’m watching re-runs, if the test is still going, or if anyone is even close to winning. I turn on the TV and it’s always. The same. Match. Seriously, it’s like I’m in Groundhog Day – and I’ve haven’t even been here twenty hours.

That being said, the 3-6 New York (Football?) Giants barely managed to snatch a not-loss from the jaws of embarrassment against Oakland. The Knicks are 2-4 and have managed to only beat Charlotte and Milwaukee.  And the Rangers – do I actually care about the Rangers?  Mike Richter still plays for them, right? 

To top it all off, ESPN India has been replaced by – you guessed it – another network that is showing even more cricket. Scanning all the sports channels, it looks like my options this week are soccer and cricket.

Soooo – let’s go cricket!

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