The “Smaller city, Better health” Hypothesis

And (statistically insignificant) correlations on the future of Indian cricket

Kriti Sen Sharma
7 min readNov 7, 2020
“Cricket in the time of smog”

I have this completely untested and unproven hypothesis.

“People who grew up in smaller Indian cities are fitter than their counterparts who grew up in larger Indian cities.”

My assumption is that with lower population, potentially lower levels of pollution, and greater access to open spaces, the smaller cities provide a health advantage over large Indian mega-cities (Delhi, Mumbai etc.).

My hypothesis is directly linked to the somewhat obvious statement that high levels of pollution in Indian mega-cities is harmful for the health of children (see my previous article/rant on that topic). Note also that I did not stretch the hypothesis to Indian villages. Children in villages might suffer from nutritional deficiencies and that might offset the advantages they have — lowest population density and greatest access to open spaces.

Anyway coming back to the “smaller city — better health” hypothesis. It does sound logically correct, right? Now how could I try and prove this hypothesis?

Tying health to cricket

How to prove that people growing up in smaller Indian cities are fitter than their big-city counterparts? Obviously, a statistically sound survey would be beyond the budget of any individual. Studies of such scale can only be carried out by the government or a large and rich corporation. If anyone reading this has knowledge of such a survey, I would be grateful if they could share the results with me.

Instead of aiming for the moon, I just try to find potential data points that might convince us for /against the “smaller city — better health” hypothesis.

As Indians, let us start with something very close to our hearts — Cricket.

Do smaller Indian towns produce more cricketers than larger Indian cities?

This leads to an interesting question — where will the next batch of Indian cricketers come from?

Will they come from the largest cities — Delhi/NCR, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and the like? Or would high levels of pollution and lack of spaces in the large Indian cities affect the physical fitness of budding talent in those cities. I can think of three Indian Cricket stalwarts who came from large cities — Sachin Tendulkar (Mumbai), Saurav Ganguly (Kolkata) and Virat Kohli (Delhi). Would such talent be stymied by the smog of Delhi, the Claustrophobia of Mumbai, or the immovable traffic of Bangalore? It’s an important question to ask — not solely for budding cricket talent, but even more for the health and wellness of each and every Indian child growin up in the mega-cities.

Alternatively, would the next batch of cricketers come from the smaller cities like Jaipur, Nagpur, Bhubaneswar? Or further smaller cities, or from even the remote parts of the country?

How do we predict the future composition of the Indian Cricket team? We look into the past of course.

A micro-analysis of Indian ODI cricketers and their birthplaces

I made a list of the one-day-international (ODI) players for India from the last two World Cups (2019, 2015) and the last two Champion Trophies (2017,2013). This resulted in a list of 31 players who were born in between the years 1981 and 1994. We can safely say that the only truly large Indian cities when these kids were growing up, were Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata. Many other currently large cities will not have made the cut (for example, Bangalore, would not have been considered a large city before the IT enabled hyper growth of 2010-15).

India ODI cricketers by birthplace, birthplace population etc. Original data at

With these assumptions let us then try to find how many ODI players came from the largest Indian cities and how many came from medium or smaller locations. For this we look at the player birthplaces and categorize these birthplaces by population (as per the Census of India, 2011):

  • > 6 million: Large Indian cities
  • 1–6 million: Medium sized Indian cities
  • <1 million: Small Indian cities, towns etc.

For example, Kohli’s birthplace Delhi with a population of >12 million is categorized as a large city, while Ravindra Jadeja’s birthplace Saurashtra (Pop. 0.5 million) is categorized as a small city or town.

How many cricketers came from each population category?

Let us start with a simple bar graph of the number of players per category.

Number of cricketers per population category. Interactive graph at

It turns out that large cities in our list (Delhi and Chennai) sent 7 of the 31 (~22%) players in the last two world cups and two champions trophies. There were no players from Mumbai or Kolkata.

Medium sized and small sized cities /towns contributed almost equally, with 11 (35%) and 12 (38%) players respectively.

Sum of population of cricketer birthplaces

Below, we sum the population of birthplaces in each population category.

Sum of population of cricketers’ birthplaces per population category. Interactive graph at

The Population bar chart is designed just to get a feel of the relative population contributions of the unique locations in the list.

  • For the 2 large cities in our list of cricketer birthplaces (Delhi and Chennai) the sum population is ~20 million.
  • For the 9 medium sized cities in our list, the sum population is 25 million.
  • For the * small sized cities in our list, the sum population is 4 million.

Summarizing the information from the two graphs, we get the following stats for the cities on our list:

  • Large Indian cities —
    Total population: 20 million, Number of cricketers: 7
  • Medium sized Indian cities —
    Total population: 25 million, Number of cricketers: 11
  • Small Indian cities, towns etc. —
    Total population: 4 million, Number of cricketers 12

Calculating the percentage probability by dividing the number of cricketers per category by the sum of birthplace populations seems tempting but it would be statistically unfair. So I will skip that.

A map of Indian cricketers and their birthplaces

For the final set of graphic(s), we collected the latitude, longitude data for each birthplace and plotted each cricketer in our list at the location of their birthplace. Hovering over each dot gives details about each individual cricketer. The Cricketer dots are colored by the population category of their birthplace. To make the map more interesting, we sized the dot for each cricketer by their number of ODI’s played.

Cricket greats like Yuvraj Singh ( 304 ODI caps, Birthplace: Chandigarh) and MS Dhoni (350 ODI caps, Birthplace: Ranchi) show up prominently. Their dots are colored green according to the legend category of birthplace population < 1 million (small Indian cities).

[Video] Map of Indian ODI cricketers by birthplace. Dots are colored by population of their birthplace, and sized by the number of ODI-s played. Zoom-able interactive map is at
Map of Indian ODI cricketers by birthplace. Dots are colored by population of their birthplace, and sized by the number of ODI-s played. Zoom-able interactive map is at

The map also shows that there is a huge cluster in and around Delhi — almost as if the neck of India has squeezed out a huge number of cricketers. Virat Kohli (248 ODI caps, Birthplace: Delhi) crowds out the rest of the players. For better visualization, we captured a zoomed in plot (skipping the sizing of the dots by the number of ODI caps played, and also staggering the player dots by a bit).

Map of Indian ODI cricketers born in and around Delhi. Interactive map is at

We can then clearly distinguish the players in that cluster, 5 of whom were from Delhi, and 4 were from nearby medium or large sized cities (including the stalwart Suresh Raina, 226 ODI caps, Birthplace : Muradnagar, UP).

Similarly, we show a zoomed in map around Chennai and Bangalore.

Map of Indian ODI cricketers born in and around Chennai and Bangalore. Interactive map is at

Conclusions (if any?)

Let us not jump to any conclusions from this data. The sample size is so small (31 players) that there is bound to be high statistical bias.

Let us take this exercise for some a simple aims instead —

  • Code and visualization on a topic most Indians care about — cricket
  • … that hopefully will prompt some thoughts and discussion on a topic most Indians do not seem to care about — environmental sustainability and improved city life.

Lets just leave it at this… shall we?

Follow up

The data and code is available online.

People are encouraged to add to the data and analysis. If you find any issues with the data and/or the analysis, please raise an issue here.

Project Contributors

  • The project was conceived and designed by Kriti Sen Sharma.
  • Code implementation was done in collaboration with Diana Ow.
  • Data collection work was done by Mrs. Hameeda Begum.
  • This report was written by Kriti Sen Sharma.


As the project designer, I must declare that while I enjoy watching cricket, I am not an ardent follower. I used to follow cricket passionately as a child but got demotivated after the match fixing scandals of the Azharuddin era. I never really rejoined the worship of cricket after that.

I note this here to say that this analysis is not meant to hurt ardent cricket followers, or those who are involved in the coaching of the next generation of Indian cricketers. This analysis is done dispassionately, but the topic is so selected such that a deep passion of most of the country (cricket) may be used to inculcate some thoughts on a deep concern of mine (the environment).