1. Why Indian Cricket team is likely to remain amongst the top three for decades?
2. Why England has won relatively low number of championships in most of the sports despite being probably the most sport loving nation?
3. Why most of the trophies/medals for India are going to come from individual games and sports? We might never see the golden days of Hockey again and we have little chance of success in sports like Football/Basketball.
This article is divided into two. The first part looks at the relation between demography and sports with cricket as an example. Second part explains the curious case of England, other sports in India, Olympic medals tally & Football rankings.
Here are some arguments which aim to partially explain some of the facts and speculations mentioned above. A nation’s success in a sport is a function of various parameters:
Success(sport) = f( Population, Per Capita Income, Level of interest in the sport, Average health, Culture, Random factors)
With the above formula most of the sports’ rankings in past and present can be justified. These are the fundamental factors. Some claim that Football in India isn’t a success because not enough money is spent on the game and cricket hogs most of the limelight. This is a naïve answer. It’s like saying that rain occurs because of the clouds; an unsatisfactory explanation with no attempt at understanding the dynamics of nature and weather cycles.
Let’s talk cricket first.
New Zealand : They just lost the One-day series 3-1 to India. That country’s population (4.2 million) is nearly half of that of Bangalore. For each New-Zealander, India has 200 heads. If one goes by population alone, then chances of prodigies like Sachin being born here are huge compared to NZ. Each player in Indian team is a 99.99999 percentile while in NZ team, he is 99.9995 percentile. India should have been mauling them in most of the games if one goes by population alone.
So what brings NZ at a competing distance to India ? I think the most important factors are active outdoor life and naturally better health (look at their average height). Their per capita income ($26,610) is more than 10 times that of India, which means a lot better infrastructure and financial support for the game and players. Yes, nowadays any Indian cricket players earn much more than a NZ player; however that happens only at the topmost level. There are a comparatively higher percentage of drop-outs at the club level in India due to financial insecurity.
Australia: There are five Australians for each New-Zealander and each Australian earns twice as much. The level of interest in cricket is higher in Australia as compared to New-Zealand where Rugby is the primary sport. Nearly 23.5 % Australians over the age of 15 regularly participate in organized sporting activities. One in four. How many of your acquaintances over 15 are regular with sports ?
Australia has probably the most efficient and competitive cricket system right from the school level; if a person is good, chances are very high that he won't miss the chance to play at the right level. However, India is now catching up due to growing economy and money being poured into the system. On the other hand, population is something that Australia would never catch up on. So, Indian team is expected to progress at a faster rate.
West Indies: WI cricket was a roaring success once upon a time. Tall, dark and ferocious players. Since last couple of decades, money has been drying out of WI cricket and at the same time Basketball is getting more and more popular due to American influence. Tall, well built players choose that game at school levels and we don’t get to see those intimidating players in cricket any more.
Pakistan: Back in 80’s and early 90’s , it was a common sight to see Pakistan team defeating India. They were just one fifth in population and per-capita-income was nearly the same. One can attribute some of it to “Random Factors” in the equation above. However, we must also not ignore that Pakistanis are ahead of Indians in terms of health and physique due to natural conditions surrounding their habitats. Who’s your favorite Bollywood actor? Chances are that he would be a Khan or someone with Punjabi blood in his family ( Hrithik Roshan, Akshay Kumar, Abhishek Bachchan, Ranbir kapur). Living in mountainous and cold region has its advantages.
Besides, it is only now that Indians have become aggressive; we didn’t have it in our culture back then. When Sachin as a teenager was hitting sixes in Peshawar, Abdul Qadir walked up to him and said “ Bachchon ko kyon maar rahe ho, humein maar ke dikhao”. Imagine Venkatpathy Raju doing the same to Shahid Afridi. One more controvertial factor, many claim, for India’s poor record against Pakistan in those days, was biased umpiring in Sharjah-Cup which we never won for years. Sachin, later in that match, hit Qadir in an over for 6,0,4,6,6,6. India still lost.
Sri Lanka: This team has risen only after the mid-nineties. However, they are seldom in top three in the rankings, which is expected given their corresponding values in the equation. I attribute the 1996 world cup win to ‘Random Factors”. “Random Factors” must not be taken as sheer luck, but more as short-lived reasons. The rise of Kaluwitharana and Jayasuriya at the top of the order was something world was not prepared for. Greats like Muralitharan are born and they can skew the expectations. However, if he or someone of Jayasuriya’s caliber was to be born in Bermuda, that team wouldn’t have won the world-cup because other parameters of the equation (mainly level and history of interest) are still very weak there.
Rest of the analysis follows in part 2. One important reason for splitting the post into two is to be able to justify any anomalies or questions that some of the readers might point out in this part.
Meanwhile, would you be kind enough to check out my other blog which is a live-story in progress of the start-up Easysquarefeet.