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Anyone for cricket?

CNN's Geoff Hiscock

Rathore was India's only medallist at Athens, taking silver in the double trap shooting event.
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Old meets new as India attempts to balance its high tech future with a traditional past.

MUMBAI, India (CNN) -- One billion people, one silver medal at the 2004 Olympics.

That is the equation that so depresses a nation just mad about sports, especially when China, with a similar population, can haul in 32 gold and 63 medals overall.

It was even worse four years ago at Sydney, when India brought home just one bronze medal in weightlifting.

In hockey, shooting, archery, tennis and athletics, India thought it had some medal chances this time at Athens. But only Major Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore in the double trap shooting event made the podium.

A drug scandal among the weightlifters added to the disappointment and raised a chorus of questions back home about how sport is run in India.

Observers maintain that India needs a stronger set of nationwide competitions rather than regionally based ones if it wants to create the conditions for success.

They also argue that until sport is better integrated with the education system, and more money is spent identifying and nurturing talent, India's sporting fortunes will suffer.

Along with these predictable responses, one solution to the medal drought has come to the fore: include cricket in the Olympics.

Imagine Sourav Ganguly or Sachin Tendulkar accepting the gold on behalf of the Indian cricket squad, proponents argue, while a beaten Australia, England or Pakistan looks on.

Supporters of this idea make the point that if synchronized swimming, beach volleyball and other team games of limited appeal such as baseball and softball can feature at the Games, then surely cricket has a place, too.

They argue that a limited-over competition among the 10 Test-playing nations would be a marvellous addition to the Olympic spectacle. Add in another half-dozen countries where cricket has some appeal (e.g. Holland, Kenya, Namibia, Canada, U.S., Germany) and the 16-nation minimum for a viable Olympics competition would be achieved.

Olympic history

Is there a chance for Ganguly to lead India's cricket team to gold in a future Olympics match?

In fact, cricket has some history at the Olympics; it made an appearance at the 1900 games, with a match between Britain and France.

But for the moment, the chance of cricket being added to the Beijing 2008 Games lineup is zero. The 2010 Commonwealth Games, to be hosted by India in New Delhi, may be a possibility.

And so the focus turns to the upcoming four-Test series India will play against arch-rival Australia in October.

Australian cricketing stars such as Brett Lee, Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne are better known in India than they are at home. The faces of Lee, Gilchrist and retired Australian captain Steve Waugh appear on Indian billboards everywhere and in newspaper and television advertisements.

Cricket is the national sporting obsession. There are other games with big followings, of course -- including football, hockey, badminton and tennis, but nothing comes close to cricket.

Every patch of grass or laneway sees young hopefuls practising their batting and bowling, and dreaming of a Test match debut as the next Tendulkar, Laxman or Harbhajan Singh.

And just maybe they are thinking, too, of Olympic gold.

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