India’s P V Sindhu has been having a great run in recent times in badminton tournaments all over the world.
Before her, Saina Nehwal was blazing the badminton trail, culminating in the world number one spot in 2015.
Both ladies have won medals in the Olympics, a rarity in Indian sport.
The performances of some of our athletes were also noteworthy at the last two Olympics while kabaddi, football and hockey are gaining in popularity through new professional leagues in the country.
But the million-dollar question now is – will they be able to stop the cricket juggernaut in the country?
Cricket is still, by and large, the most popular sport in the country. Sadly, it still gets crowds, performances and other factors notwithstanding.
Just take the case of the recent one-day match of the India-Australia series played at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur. India had already won the series 3-1.
So why so many people present were there to watch India predictably take the series 4-1?
Tickets are expensive these days. The weather was hot too. Yet the fans forked out the exorbitant sum for the ticket, braved the heat and watched an aimless game.
Sadly, cricket is an overpowering thing which has pervaded an Indian’s being.
Knowledge of the game is no barrier. Even a child of four may know Kohli’s name.
Housewives steeped in saas-bahu serials also occasionally pop up their heads to inquire about the latest score.
Cricket is used to break awkward silences, can evoke angry debates and in some cases violence and death.
In short, Indians are cricket-crazy. No wonder they treat the cricket fraternity as Gods of some kind.
Everybody gets into the act, often dropping everything including work to catch a match.
At the moment, the likes of Sindhus, Nehwals etc can only play the bridesmaid in India’s great sporting culture.
Thankfully, at least people have begun noticing that India’s “other” sportspersons are also performing well on the world stage.
A sudden crop medals by India’s boxers, wrestlers, weightlifters besides badminton players and shooters, have been appreciated by Indians.
Social media posts have also begun to appear praising their achievements.
But the focus away from cricket will not happen in a long time. There was a time when hockey jostled for space along with cricket.
But despite poor performances by the Indian team, hockey was always edged out.
Cricket transcends all boundaries. The fans will abuse, plunder and damage when Indian cricketers do badly. But they will still go for the matches.
What we see today is just a slight shift in interest. Badminton will be followed now due to those two ladies, while the glamour of the pro hockey, kabaddi and football leagues will draw crowds.
But only sustainability will make these sports appealing to the common Indian spectator.
They have a foot on the door. Entering will still take decades.