It’s January 2020. It’s a new year. There will be sports, lots and lots of it. There’s gonna be the
New Year’s Test at Sydney, There’s gonna be an IPL like always, there’s gonna be a Euro Cup
hosted across several European countries and there’s going to be an Olympics in Tokyo. First up
for the Test match at Sydney, between Australia and New Zealand and bizarrely enough, Colin
de Grandhomme took the new ball. At the time, no one would have known this wasn’t going to
be the most bizarre thing to happen in 2020.
Cut to three months later, the entire world is under lockdown. Until March 2020, the term
lockdown meant little to nothing to normal people and it wasn’t even a word used frequently in
conversations. On Google, the meaning of the word reads, ‘the confining of prisoners to their
cells, typically to regain control during a riot’ or ‘a state of isolation or restricted access
instituted as a security measure.’ Neither of them is a happy reading. Both of the meanings
would give a sense of melancholy to the person experiencing it. In 2020, everyone experienced it
and it wasn’t all pretty.
Suddenly, mental health came to the forefront. There was a sense that, as a civilisation, we had
failed to notice the repercussions of being confined. There was a sense of panic. There was a
sense of manic behaviour around the globe. On the surface, it might seem a lot easier to say that
being home can be great. Yes, it is. But, for you to stay and not feel disturbed mentally, there are
others who are out. For you to come home, grab a beer and watch some cricket or football and
enjoy, there are several training academies, players, support staff, broadcasters, presenters,
journalists, fans and club members who have to be out. But, post-2020, even they had to stay
home. That’s when the travesty struck. That’s when things got a bit too shaky for even the
For a few months, things were a bit too difficult for everyone to cope up with. The fact that
people couldn’t go out, made them detached from reality in some sense. It has to be understood
that the human mind seeks attention from other humans. They need physical contact, eye contact,
the feeling that there is a human in front of you, covered up, yet naked, with their voice,
something which can’t be replicated in Zoom calls. However, there is one thing that feels real
despite it being on the other side of your screen. Cricket, Basketball, football, hockey, ice
hockey. Basically, Sports.
Once sports returned to television and OTT platforms, the engagement was more than ever. For
an instance, there was a 28% increase in viewership for IPL 2020, compared to the 2019 edition.
And these numbers don’t always take into account how many people are watching on each
screen, which is likely to be higher in 2020, considering the number of people who stayed
confined with their loved ones. Even IPL 2021 marked a great success as according to a report
Star India accumulated a total reach of 352 million in the first 26 matches.
There are hundreds and hundreds of case studies that have shown relations between sports and
reduced stress and mental health problems. But why? Why does Sports, which is basically to
some a futile activity in thermodynamics, play such an important part in the lives of people who
are not friends to those some people I mentioned in the earlier part of the sentence.
Because there is a sense of community. There is a sense of teaming up. Historically, human
beings have been attracted to anything in which their friends are into. If you think about it, wars
were a part of this culture. Teaming up. Having goals. Celebrating wins. A lot of these were just
activities that kept cavemen or a random Joe from the 15th century sane enough to do something
productive. Sports does that.
It can be commenting together with a friend on a Facebook post which is shaming your favourite
cricketer or wearing the same jersey with your friends of your favourite team. There is a sense of
belonging, there is a sense of togetherness, there is a sense of not being alone, something which
lockdown had not given us. Sports for professionals is something. But, for fans, it is a whole
different world. The world which takes them away from the mundanes of life and makes them
feel. It’s emotional, it’s happening, it’s exciting, it’s breathless, it is the rush of adrenaline. It is not
fictional. It is life. At its harshest best. It tells you that you can even sleep after MS Dhoni fails to
finish the game. But, on the day he does finish it, you will be detached from the melancholy that
is your life. But that is all if you scratch the surface. From a distance, it’s just sports. It’s
Sports in India means a lot of things. But, despite it being brutally true, for many in the country
colonised by the British for years, cricket is the sport. In fact, cricket is a sport. There is a
difference between those two sentences and understanding it, is the study of what cricket means
to this country. To put that in numbers, a report by Broadcast Audience Research Council
(BARC) India states that cricket draws 93% of sports viewers in India.
India ranks 123 on the list of the most stressed countries. But, maybe that number is lower than
some of us might have expected because of cricket, the sport which India loves, cherishes and
celebrates. Now, it is not easy to say that Cricket in India has helped keep mental health in check
for many. And that is exactly what sports does. It keeps mental health in balance. It involves and
includes friends. It builds community. It builds entertainment. And more than anything, it helps