Who says cricket is India’s most popular sport?

It isn’t a sport; it’s religion. That’s the cliche about cricket in secular India. But the football player-turned-referee-turned- football writer S.S. Shreekumar has put our so-called obsession with the “Indian game accidentally discovered by the English” (Ashis Nandy) in perspective.

Shreekumar, in an interview with Deepak Thimaya on Udaya TV, said Indians were obsessed with cricket only when the Indian side was playing in an international match. No such interest is evident in the trials, travails and tribulations of their local, state or regional teams.

“Recently, the national badminton finals were taking place at the Karnataka Badminton Association hall in Bangalore. And a Ranji Trophy match was being played at Chinnaswamy Stadium between Karnataka and Delhi. There was Anil Kumble and Virender Sehwag. Yet, the badminton finals drew more crowds than the Ranji tie.”

This, says Shreekumar, is quite in contrast with football. The golden game is avidly followed at virtually every level. Don’t agree? Take a small test: Do you know who won the State league in your City? Who was the highest run-getter for your State in the Ranji Trophy last year?

So, is our love for cricket a television-inspired put-on? Or, are cricket’s fans and fanatics the ultimate desh premis?