Are the hopes of a billion really with this team?

The “hopes of a billion” is a cliche that is drummed into our ears by Mandira Bedi and the men around her, and it is a line we will hear ad nauseam today as India spar with Sri Lanka in a thadhaku-athava-tholagu skirmish. But do the Boys in Blue really carry the hopes of a billion people?

Officially, India’s 2007 population is estimated to touch 1,129,866,154. Which means, as pure precision goes, the “hopes of a billion” is inaccurate. But then the “hopes of one-point-one billion” doesn’t quite have the ring of the “hopes of one billion”, does it?

Even if we accept the base figure of one billion figure for the moment, do all Indians—men and women, rural and urban, rich and poor, regardless of region, religion, language, station in life—bat for the Indian team at all times? Even when the Adults in Azure are playing like babes in the woods?

Let’s take the first distinction: do all gents love the game? Around 52 per cent of our population comprises members of the male species. That’s a little over half. More accurately that’s 587,530,400 or 58.7 crores.

That figure includes males between 0 and 14 (30.8 per cent), between 15 and 64 (64.3 per cent), and those above 65 years of age (4.9 per cent). The hypemeisters would like to lump them all together and say all of them are behind India. Really?

Look around you. Out of every ten men between 15 and 64, you will find, on average, three of them (sometimes four, sometimes even five) openly disinterested in cricket, either because they went to nice schools where they played squash or rugby, because they are members of the Indian Olympic Association, or plain inverse snobbery.

Let’s go with the lowest figure. If only three out of every ten are not with the game, that means roughly a third.

So, you can count a third of the 64.3 per cent out. The number of Indian males in the 15-64 range is 363,876,219. So, if you knock out a third of them (which is 121,292,072), you are left with 242,584,147 men possibly madly interested in the fortunes of the team. Or 24.25 crores (a).

The number of males between 0 and 14 years of age number 173,478,760 and females account for another 163,852,827. If you club them together 337,331,587 or 33.7 crores (i).

The latest population data says that 40 per cent of India’s population is now below 15 years of age. Approximately 1,815 babies are born every hour, or roughly 43,560 every day. So, in the intervening seven years, which is 2,555 days, our population has grown by 111,295,800 or 11.12 crores (ii).

Put in another way, there are roughly 11.12 crore kids between 0 and 7, not counting the time you took to read that sentence. For ease of calculation, let’s assume that kids, male or female, below 7 years of age know nothing about cricket and don’t give a screw if India wins or loses.

And let’s assume, to balance that assumption and to please the advertisers, that all kids , boys and girls, above that seven but below 14 just blindly want India to win at all time. The number of children between 7 and 14 is iii = 22.58 crores (b).

Apply similar parameters to those 65 years and above. Their total population across the country is 2.7 crore men and 2.6 crore women. Assume hypothetically that all but 70 lakh men (iii) and 26 lakh women (iv) in that age group are interested in the game.

Let’s say all the rest are uninterested because they are purists who don’t like one-day cricket, because they are hard of hearing, can’t reach the remote, don’t have TV, can’t see TV, etc, you are left with iii + iv = 96 lakh (c) old people whose hopes might be with the boys.

a + b + c = 24.25 + 22.58 + 0.96 = 47.79 crores, which is clearly less than one half of a billion.

Of course, we haven’t counted women in the 15-64 age group, but we will come to that in a bit.

Let’s split the 24.25 crore men in the 15-64 age group, which is the primary contributor to this 47.79 crore figure. We have randomly assumed that all the men in the 15-64 age group live in the 299 urban conglomerates advertisers would like to think is India. The reality is 70 per cent of India lives in its 555,000 villages and hamlets.

Which means roughly 70 per cent of those 24.25 crore men between 15 and 64—or 16.9 crore—are not exposed to saturation coverage of cricket, like the city slickers are. They may or can not read newspapers, may not have cable and satellite access, may be getting a Doordarshan feed which they may or may not catch. And of course, they may be actually going to schools/colleges/ factories/ farms where are no water coolers to pause and send up a hope for the Indian team.

Let’s assume, anyhow, that half of them, being devotees of the gods of this religion, do. Which is 8.45 crores (d).

So a + b + c is now actually (a-d) + b + c, which is (24.25-8.45) + 22.58 + 0.96 = 39.34 crores, not 47.79 crores.

Let’s now take up the other great imponderable, the women in the 15-64 age group. Their total number in the 2001 censs is 340,181,764 or 34.01 crores. Quite clearly, not all of them are interested in cricket. Equally truly, not all of them are uninterested either.

So, how do we compute their number?

At my home, there are two women, the wife and the mother. The first is 38, the second is 70. The former is marginally interested, the latter is not. So, that would give us a 50-50 split. On the other hand, the wife works in an office where there are ten women, and only “2 or 3” evince any interest of what’s happening in the game, which works out to a fifth.

The percentage of women interested in cricket is between a fifth and a half. If, again, you acknowledge that 70 per cent population lives in the towns, villages and hamlets, we will have to take the lower figure and say only a fifth are interested because the men frown upon their interest, because they have to cook, clean, fetch water, teach, etc.

In other words, only 68,036,352 women between 15 and 64 are interested. That works out to 6.80 crores (e).

So, (a-d) + b + c + e = 46.14 crore are interested in cricket. And theoretically only so many hopes, less than half a billion, could probably be with the Indian team.

Probably, not possibly.

Yes, 46.14 crore is still a very large number. But we have not counted the large swathes of India where cricket doesn’t kick off any interest, say in the North East or in the Hills or in the rural/tribal belts. We assume, again, that all Indians live in India, not counting the many NRIs, whose number is pretty sizeable.

And, above all, we assume that these 46.14 crore Indians have nothing better to do than hope.

So, the next time you see the words “hopes of a billion” escape the pouted lips of Mandira, it’s a good time to puncture the pumped-up, paid-for patriotism and say, as my cousin Kitta used to say, “Saaku, muchchamma.”


What do you think? Is 46.14 crores too high or too low a figure? Why do you think fewer or more Indians could be interested in cricket and sending up their prayers? Join the debate, crunch some numbers.