Is Uttar Pradesh about to take off?

India may have become a miracle economy since 2003, but its largest state, Uttar Pradesh, remains mired in poverty and slow growth. Many people despair of progress in this slough of despond.

Yet let me stick my neck out and say that UP is on the verge of economic take-off. I base this prediction on the fact that Uttar Pradesh has reached the Ranji Trophy cricket finals in three of the last four years, winning the trophy in 2005-06. And, believe it or not, there is some association between cricketing and economic clout.

Economists have long suggested a partial relationship between economics and Olympic medals. For instance, in 2000 Professor Daniel Johnson of Colorado College created a medal-winning prediction model based on five criteria—GDP per capita, population, political structure, climate and home-nation bias. His prediction came 96% true at the next Olympics. However, other studies and other Olympics showed much less or little correlation. The debate is inconclusive. Yet it seems plausible that the new energy and resources of a resurgent economy will rub off on sports too.

I noticed this in my youth in regard to Karnataka. In the 1950s and 1960s, Karnataka was not economically backward, but not a powerhouse either. Nor did it boast great cricketing prowess. But then it produced a string of great cricketers in the late 1960s and early 1970s—Chandrashekhar, Prasanna, Vishwanath, Brijesh Patel. The state was a Ranji Trophy finalist in four of the ten years between 1973-74 and 1982-83, winning twice.

Karnataka’s cricket upsurge was followed by an economic upsurge. It gained stature first as an engineering hub, and then as a hub of information technology. It had some good industries even in the 1960s, but only later did it become a powerhouse.

A look at other Ranji Trophy finalists through the years also shows similar trends, however halting. Mumbai became the commercial capital of India in the 1950s. It has been the foremost cricketing power ever since.

Bengal used to be a cricketing power in the old days when Kolkata was the commercial capital. The state was a finalist in 1943-44, 1952-53 and 1955-56. But then came the rise of communism and decline of industry in the state, and cricket withered too. The economy began reviving in the 1990s, and the state is now among the country’s fast-growing ones. Its cricketing fortunes have improved too–it was a finalist in 1993-94, 2005-06 and 2006-07.

Gujarat has long been an economic giant, and has grown fast in recent years. But instead of having one state team, it has three–Baroda, Saurashtra and Gujarat. This trifurcation of cricketing strength has cost it dear. Nevertheless Baroda has reached the finals in 1995-96, 2000-01 and 2001-02.

In the 1950s, Delhi was a city of bureaucrats, and petty traders. Industry and commerce then came up, especially in peripheral industrial towns like Gurgaon and Faridabad. Soon after, Delhi became a cricketing powerhouse. It was a finalist in almost all years between 1979-80 and 1989-90.

What matters seems to be not just income but industrialiation. Punjab and Haryana have historically been India’s richest states, but till recently were overwhelmingly agricultural. Only after recent industrialisation have they become cricketing powers. Haryana was a Ranji Trophy finalist in 1985-86 and 1990-91, and Punjab in 1992-93, 1994-95 and 2004-05.

The latest cricketing star state is UP. Its captain, Mohammed Kaif, was the first to make the Test team. Many others have played for India in one-day internationals— Suresh Raina, Piyush Chawla, RP Singh and Praveen Kumar. Waiting in the wings are Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Shivkant Shukla.

Kanpur was once the industrial and cricketing capital of the state. But then its industries declined, and its cricket too. The new industrial dynamism of the state comes from Western UP, and so do many of its cricketers.

Does this prove that UP is headed for industrial greatness? Not conclusively at all. I back my hunch with scattered pieces of evidence, not a rigorous statistical exercise. What complicates the picture is the fact that many players switch from one state to another, and some play for the Services or Railways, not a state.

But the broad picture shows some connection between cricketing and economic progress. It is not an infallible link, and many other factors are at work. Yet when I see Uttar Pradesh reaching the Ranji Trophy finals in three out of four years, I sit up and take notice. Something is changing, for the better, in the slough of despond.

What do you think?