Cricket added to 2017 India Fest’s cultural offerings

The sights, sounds, and flavors of India surround the New Orleans Museum of Art biannually for the India Fest, a celebration sponsored by the Indian Arts Circle. Curries, vindaloo, samosas and other Indian specialities will be served by local restaurateurs from Taj Mahal, Nirvana, Saffron, and Silk Road. Lectures throughout the day will cover such subjects as Eastern philosophy and the demographics of India. Sari demonstrations, henna tattooing, Bollywood and traditional dancing, tours of the India Art Gallery, a crafts bazaar, and children’s activities will keep audiences of all ages entertained. New this year will be a cricket demonstration on the meadow facing the museum. Though British in origin, cricket is now synonymous with India, a sport that brings the nation to a standstill when the national team is televised.

Cricket is a game played between two teams, generally of 11 members each. In essence, it is single combat, in which an individual batsman does battle against an individual bowler, who has helpers known as fielders. For a general explanation of the rules of the game, see this link from ESPN. For a broader sense of the game’s cultural significance and its presence in Louisiana, Arts Quarterly editor David Johnson sought answers from H. V. Nagrenda, an architect and project managing consultant with Vastu Consulting in New Orleans and avid cricket player.

H. V. Nagendra

What can visitors to India Fest expect to learn about cricket?

We are going to exhibit the game. We will have about five or six players, in a sort of garden-like manner, and they will show how players “pitch” the ball — I’m using baseball terms here — the ball is “bowled” to the batsman, and the batsman is like the batter. We’ll show what the purpose of the bat and ball are, just like in baseball. It won’t be a full match, but a demonstration of the sport, and we will hand out information to those who come to watch for further explanation for those who want to know more about cricket and how it compares to baseball without getting into the nitty gritty of the rules. We will have a diagram of the playing field and how the defensive players are positioned, and the differences between a cricket field and a baseball diamond. Baseball, after all, is a derivative of cricket. In baseball you bat from the corner of the field, but in cricket you bat from the center of the field in any direction that you wish.

When did you begin playing cricket?

I’m from India and I played in high school and played it on the streets in front of my house. It’s a neighborhood sport, so where there are open spaces in the urban areas, it’s a pickup sport like everywhere else, similar to volleyball, or football, or baseball in yards and playgrounds. Cricket was introduced to India by the British and it has caught on and like it did in most other Commonwealth countries.

When I came to this country, 36 years ago, I first arrived in St. Louis to attend Washington University and I found a cricket team in the nearby Forest Park. There are leagues across the United States, mostly played by immigrants coming from Commonwealth countries — India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, some African countries, and so forth. In New Orleans there are about four or five Americans who have acquired a flavor for it and have now become members of the Crescent City Cricket Club, the longest standing cricket club in the city. Before Katrina it varied between five to eight clubs playing. There was one team at UNO, made up mostly of Pakistani and a few Indian students, and one team at Tulane, and another in Chalmette and two teams from Jefferson Parish, all of them mostly Pakistanis and Indians. There was also a team out of Finn McCool’s bar, made up mostly of Australians.

What skills make for a good cricket player?

Any skill set in the case of batsman would not be all that different from a baseball batter. Having a good eye and being able to twist and turn and hit the ball in the manner of making a run. In the case of bowling, which is related to pitching, you use many of the same techniques to turn the bawl, twist the ball, speed up the ball, just as you have in baseball — fast balls, curve balls, things of that nature. In the case of cricket you the ball do what you want it to do by letting it bounce on the ground before it reaches the batsman. The bowler uses the pitch and the bounce on the ground as a means to trick the player into what the ball might do. Bowlers come with special skills, similar to baseball pitchers. There are fast bowlers, spin bowlers, there are those who are able to do both, then there are those who are slower and spin the ball. It’s the same case with batting, you have right-handed batsmen, left-handed batsmen, but what makes it different from baseball is that except for the catcher, nobody wears gloves to handle the ball. It’s all bare handed for the fielders.

Is cricket a sport that unifies India?

I would compare it to football in America. I maintain that football is sport that unifies this nation. In India, to the extent that when they have international competitive sports, people take days off, and even if they don’t go to the stadium to watch, they will gather to watch it on the TV at home or on the radio. I remember as a child missing school classes to listen to the cricket championships on the radio and appreciating what was going on. Work does not get done on those days!

It is so developed to the extent that there have now been several cricket players who, from their leadership on the field have gone on to become successful politicians after they have retired from the game. Successful professional athletes, just like successful actors in film, Bollywood, become the center of idol worship in India That’s true in Pakistan, too, where the captain of the Pakistani team, Imran Khan, is now one of the major opposition leaders of the current regime in Pakistan and he is considered one who is likely to succeed the current prime minister. The role of a captain as a leader is huge, it’s like having John Elway or Drew Brees here who have proven their leadership in football that what they have to say in the community has a weight and people listen.


  • Cricket, a traditionally British sport that dates to the late 16th century, was introduced to India by English sailors of the East India Company as early as 1721. The popularity of the game spread among India’s elite Brahmins who were eager to play alongside British colonial rulers as a means of gaining favor. Jawahal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, elected in 1947, symbolically “opened the batting” for a match in 1953 that pitted his team against that of the president, squarely placing cricket as a game among the highest caste.
  • The game has become increasingly more populist over time. The sale of televisions in India from 30 million in 1989 to 160 million today was largely spurred by a demand to watch live broadcasts of cricket.
  • Cricket is the only national sport of India, a nation of 1.3 billion people. An estimated 400 million Indians tune in to televised matches. In 2016, Sony India paid $1 billion for a ten-year deal on broadcasting rights.
  • In 2014 Indian President Pranab Mukherjee bestowed the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honor, to Sachin Tendulkar, a recently retired and nationally adored batsman. Instituted in 1954 “in recognition of exceptional service/performance of the highest order,” past recipients of the award have included former prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Ghandi, Nobel humanitarian Mother Teresa, and Swami Vivekananda, the man largely responsible for introducing yoga to the Western world. Tendulkar, age 40, remains the youngest honoree to date. Two years earlier Tendulkar was given one of twelve appointed seats in the Raja Sabha, the upper house of the Parliament of India, by President Mukherjee. His selection caused some controversy since the honor is normally reserved for Indians who have made outstanding contributions to art, literature, science, and social services.
  • The 2008 book The Zoya Factor written by Indian novelist Anuja Chauhan highlighted a growing fan base of Indian women for cricket. The protagonist, Zoya Solanki, is an ad-woman who goes from being a cricket-hater to becoming the Indian team’s lucky charm. The book marked the first time a female author wrote about cricket.
  • Cricket is not an Olympic sport due to its limited popularity in a few nations in the British Commonwealth, but Rome has promised to include the sport if it is chosen for the 2024 Games. The subject of cricket’s exclusion has been the source of continuing controversy and debate among members of the International Olympic Committee given the sport’s vast fan base.
  • Viral Kolli, current captain of the India national team, is considered the most popular cricketer in the world with more than 34 million Facebook likes. In 2014, American Appraisal, a valuation advisory company,  listed his brand value at $56.4 million, and in a ranking of the most marketable athletes in the world published by SportsPro magazine in 2016, he placed third, behind No. 1 Golden State Warriors basketball player Stephen Curry and No. 2 French soccer player Paul Pogba.