Most people around the globe could guess the name of the most popular sport in the world if asked, but what about the second and third most popular sports? In first place is of course Association Football, better known as Soccer, although you may have a hard time convincing a significant section of the North American population about this! There are estimated to be 3.5 billion soccer fans around the world – almost half of the global population.
Depending on where you live, you might be shocked to learn that the second-placed spot goes to the game of Cricket, with an estimated 2.5 billion fans across the globe. Cricket is especially popular in the United Kingdom and its former colonies, most notably India, where the revenue from cricket betting dwarfs that of all other sports.
The huge population of India is no doubt one of the primary reasons that Cricket beats Field Hockey into third place. Field Hockey? Yes, according to official viewing figures from around the world, Field Hockey really is the world’s third most popular spectator sport. Moreover, it boasts double the viewership of Tennis – you really do learn something new every day!
What Makes Cricket so Popular?
The FIFA World Cup is an event viewed by many as on-par with the Olympic Games as a sporting spectacular. Cricket has an equivalent tournament, the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup, but it is nowhere near as well-known. Furthermore, many of the world’s largest countries by population do not even have a national cricket team. I think it would be fair to say that the popularity of Cricket in India does skew the numbers quite a bit, although there are still many good reasons for the popularity of Cricket as a sport.
Unique Score Structure
Firstly, the scoring system in Cricket is unique compared to many other sports. A cricket match begins with a coin toss, after which the team which wins the coin toss will be asked if they wish to bowl or bat first. This creates a situation whereby the result of the game is not predictable just from looking at the current scoreboard – there is no way to tell how the team who bats next will do. This is similar to Baseball in many ways, and there are many other similarities between Cricket and Baseball too – unsurprising, as the two games are thought to have a common ancestor.
A soccer match has a set format – two 45-minute halves, usually followed by 30 minutes of extra time if a winner has not been determined at the end of the first 90 minutes. Cricket has three main match styles, some of which may suit different people’s preferences better. Twenty-20 Internationals and One Day Internationals are both shortened game formats that take place in either just a few hours or a single day. A test match can take up to five days to play out completely – ideal perhaps for creating lots of television highlights, but maybe not so great for live spectators at a stadium!
The simplest sports are often the most popular, and it is easy to understand why – the more complex the game, the more difficult it is to learn how to play or follow the action as a spectator. In the United States, many young children will play soccer before graduating to playing American Football in their later years, partially because of safety but also because soccer is vastly easier for younger people to understand.
Another comparison could be made with Pool and Snooker – two games with broadly similar mechanics, but pool is much better suited to both younger people and quick games at a bar, whilst snooker makes for a much more tactical and difficult to master challenge for older players and those who aren’t in the middle of heavy drinking session!
Some people would argue this point, saying that cricket is the most complicated of the “bat and ball” games, but there really isn’t much to it if you take an hour out to learn how the game works. Like most sports, it does use a lot of very specific terminology but watch a couple of games on TV and you should have the basics picked up in under an hour.
There are many more reasons for the popularity of Cricket, but some of these I found to be quite subjective and really could be seen as both reasons to like and dislike the game overall. On the whole, cricket lovers seem to adore the way that a match can push and pull between batting rounds, and enjoy the constant unknown as to what might happen next. Youngsters like the game because it is very easy and cheap to set up a game – you can get away with just a bat, a ball, and a group of four friends, and even real props such as wickets are easy to make or cheap to buy.