How cricket has evolved!

I REMEMBER the good old radio in my house. It used to be the centre of attraction. From that little box, I could listen to the tales of magic on the cricket field from across the globe.

I would listen to the exploits of great cricketers like Sir Gary Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Sunil Gavaskar, Allan Knott...the words about them would always stay in my mind.

I still remember staying awake till the early hours of the morning, listening to the commentary from the Caribbean in '71. That was the series where Gavaskar made such a dramatic entry into Test cricket, and India humbled Sobers' men in their backyard.

It was such a wonderful victory for India and I was so proud to be an Indian that day. Similarly, I followed India's Test triumph in England the same year on the radio, and Ajit Wadekar's men once again pulled off a coup, with B.S. Chandrasekar sending down that dramatic spell at the Oval. I was still in school in Chennai, and I must say I was inspired by the glorious deeds of our cricketers.

I would listen to the commentary, and form the picture of the action on my mind. It was as close to 'watching' a match in distant places like the West Indies and England as I could get.

Then I had the newspaper cuttings of my favourite cricketers, and marvelled at the 'strokeplay' of my heroes. And I would try to learn from the photographs.

These days, the youngsters are so lucky. They can see most international matches, in most parts of the world, live on television! This was simply unimaginable when I was growing up.

They can now follow India on every campaign, watch every Test or ODI on television. They are indeed a lucky lot!

From my days as a schoolboy, I will now leap to my time as an India cricketer. Cricket was extremely popular in the 70s and the early 80s, but it was only after watching India emerge triumphant in the World Cup '83, that the game really became a craze in this nation.

Being a part of the victorious World Cup team was definitely the highlight of my career. The fact that Doordarshan telecast the semifinal and final live came as a boon to countless Indian fans. They watched their team conquer England in the semifinal, and after a sensational turnaround, turn the tables on Clive Lloyd's West Indians in the final. Their joy knew no bounds.

The live telecast made the victory even more popular and visible since people from all sections of the society watched the matches. The reception that we received back home was unbelievable, and we were all quite overwhelmed really.

However, even more than the World Cup '83, what really brought cricket here to the forefront was the telecast of the World Championship of Cricket series matches in Australia '85. Once again India, enjoying a tremendous run, went on to win defeating Pakistan in the final.

The Channel Nine production team was at work and the quality of telecast was simply superb. The viewers could now watch the action from several angles, and it really opened the eyes of many, regarding how well cricket could be covered on television.

The audience in India saw three matches live, the last league game against Australia, and the semifinal and the final, where the Indians overcame New Zealand and Pakistan respectively.

That was when we as Indian cricketers noticed such a huge change, that cut across all barriers, among the people in India. Cricket had now become a passion, a part of life for them.

Looking back, I can say that it was after India's WCC victory, that the game became so big in India, taking a huge step forward. Television had done the trick.

Yet those were the days when commercially cricket was still in its infancy with Doordarshan receiving the rights to telecast all the Tests and ODIs in India free of cost.

Even then the Board made money, and players too earned enough for a decent living. However, cricket's vast commercial potential had not yet been tapped.

It was only in the early 90s, that the Board finally decided to sell the rights for the home international matches to the highest bidder, and the decision created such a huge uproar.

The Board was right, won the legal battle, and the boldness of its officials who were determined to bring to the BCCI its rightful share of money, was appreciated. They had shown foresight. Now the rights for the same matches, over a period of time, runs into hundreds of crores!

As a commercial proposition, cricket is huge in India. The Board is rich, and the players are wealthy. When more and more matches were telecast live, the cricketers were visible on television every other day, and their commercial value zoomed.

The top stars were not just exceptional cricketers now but also money spinners, with companies vying with one other to sign them up for endorsements. In terms of money made, a leading Indian cricketer can now compare favourably with a Bollywood filmstar. Times have indeed changed!

With the coming in of television, so many people are taking an active interest in cricket. The womenfolk are so keen about the game these days and are quite knowledgeable, too.

Similarly, television makes a huge and lasting influence on the ones learning the game. The youngsters of today are so lucky, that they can pick up things from greats such as Sachin Tendulkar, Steve Waugh, Wasim Akram or Shane Warne. They can watch them and correct their approach.

This is one of the reasons why we are seeing so many young cricketers playing at a higher level so early.

Parthiv Patel is one such example. I am quite sure, watching matches on television would have inspired him, apart from helping him correct his faults.

What more, everyone can watch the 'action' virtually free of charge. It is important that in this big business of cricket, where there is room for everybody, we play the commercial game according to the rules, so that everybody can survive in the long run. From radio to television, cricket has come a long way. It has been an eventful journey. I have 'heard it', played it, and seen it grow. And I am only too happy.