It is not that India have always been the world-beaters in cricket. But a few reasons helped it to avoid the fate of hockey.
Second, since a few teams played cricket and still play, it was easier for India to maintain its position on the international stage, unlike hockey.
Third, although cricket is a team game structurally, but there is enough room for individual heroics to decide a game's fortune. Gavaskar, Kapil and later Sachin Tendulkar gave them an outlet to vent nationalistic zeal, particularly when the country was witnessing increasing socio-economic and political hardships. Cricket, more than a sport, emerged into an alternative reality for the millions besides Bollywood and this gave rise to other forces to play their part.
Cricket was luckier than hockey
Cricket was lucky in the sense that history favoured it more than hockey or football. The craze of 1983 could have died down if India continued to fail in successive World Cups as it did, but emergence of a prodigy named Sachin Tendulkar did not let cricket lose its plot. Since 1992 till 2011, Tendulkar continued to emerge as a giant in world cricket and the second World Cup victory for India last year was the culmination of the long-drawn process.
In between, India reached the World Cup final in 2003, beat Pakistan in their own den, drew with Australia Down Under and each of those performances, which centred around some extremely talented individuals who represented the emerging middle-class in the post-liberalisation India, helped cricket to thrive. Tendulkar even completed an incredible feat of scoring 100 international hundreds.
These high points helped cricket in finding allies in the media and the market, the latter being the more trusted one. Today, India's cricketers have emerged into neo-gladiators and the brains behind sports branding have blindly followed them. Starting from Tendulkar, the post-liberalisation India has seen a number of individuals, and mostly from the humble middle-class, come up as major individual brands. The administrators of the game happily milched the cow and India's cricket empire only grew into a mega structure. A sport like hockey never witnessed this and instead, travelled a reverse path.
The incredibility of cricket in India is reflected in the emergence of mass sports as a property, like the Indian Premier League (IPL). Through it, the Indian sporting authorities combined the popular game with a spectator-friendly innovative format and the stature of cricket went on shooting up, despite fixing scandals. It has been so overwhelming that hockey authorities later thought to start a Hockey India League (HIL) on similar lines and even inducted among others, a top cricket official of the country to oversee the HIL's progress. The gap between 1980 and 1983 was just three years, but the distance between 2011 cricket World Cup and 2012 London Olympics hockey seems to be an astronomical year!
Individual sports also gaining prominence
Another change was also visible during this time. While the middle-class was mostly absorbed in cricket or nothing, the upper and lower echelons of the society found some other outlets. The likes of Abhinav Bindra and Rajyavardhan Rathore on one hand and Karnam Malleshwari, Vijender Singh and Sushil Kumar on the other hand, have proved that other sports in India also have a prospect at the world stage.
The above-mentioned people have made it all by themselves and could have lost among the crowd but for their iron will. In a country where running about in the field instead of muggling up school lessons is still considered a waste of time, people like Bindra, Vijender, Leander had to script their tales all by themselves.
They have taken a hard step and now it's the job of the market and corporates to capitalise on their success and help a sub-altern sporting culture to gather roots. These individual heroics have proved that a space is emerging outside the predominance of cricket by means of a national consiousness and ambitious individuals, irrespective of state support or not, are bent on making all the hard work to flourish at the highest level. But a bigger pursuit of these sports by the middle-class is required for consistent success at the highest stage.
Hockey just missed a golden chance to challenge cricket
Coming back to hockey, the dribblers just missed a golden opportunity to reverse the trend. India had an opportunity to participate in the Olympics after eight years and the general interest was high. The side's superlative show at the qualifying rounds also garnered huge support. Sponsors came in and the hockey players were pampered like never before.
Camps became more prominent and the corporate glitz hinted that hockey, with a much richer history than cricket, could turn the tables in this Olympics. A hard taskmaster Australian as the coach suggested that India was determined to make each match count this year. Hockey could have taken advantage of the fact that cricket, at least for the time being, has taken a backseat after a few disastrous tours since the conclusion of the World Cup last year. But it was not to be. The team sank without a trace and the sport was left humiliated.