They came back from the World Cups with tans in shape but reputations in ruins. For the Indian cricket team and England’s football team, every World Cup brings with it hope, expectations and eventually, despair.
When England’s footballers embarked for the World Cup last summer, almost every writer worth his or her salt — or in some cases not — were absolutely certain that the ‘Three Lions’ would leave Germany in a blaze of glory with trophy in hand.
Unfortunately, after their superstars missed with alarming alacrity in the penalty-shootout against Portugal in Gelsenkirchen, the English fans were suddenly living on a prayer. Finally, after the dust had settled and Cristiano Ronaldo converted, there was a distinct base feel to the ‘golden boys’. So, yet another World Cup passed by with English fans still waiting for the second coming of the Holy Grail.
Cut to a year later in the Caribbean and what have we? A similar situation in the cricket World Cup. This time the lions have been substituted by tigers — India’s paper tigers. The Indian team looked shambolic at the World Cup. If their bowlers looked lost, the batsmen gave the impression that they’d rather be anywhere else.
Greg Chappell’s ‘Vision’ looked myopic and, from potential winners, and almost certain members of the Super Eight club, the team was suddenly looking for the safest route back home after a horrendous first-round exit.
Ever since Bobby Moore held aloft the Jules Rimet Trophy at Wembley in the summer of ’66, every team England put out is proclaimed as ‘The One’. The One, which will finally put to rest all talk of them being a ‘one-trick pony’, The One that will bring the game’s biggest prize back to the land that gave it to the world. Sadly, nothing the team has done so far — the best being a semifinal defeat in 1990 (tiebreak heartbreak again) — could get people thinking otherwise. Yet, hope burns.
Similarly, the Indian cricket team — lords for a day in 1983 — have yet to recreate the determination and artistry that saw them scale the biggest mountain of them all, the West Indies. Them reaching the final in the last edition in 2003 — we’ll not talk about what happened in that final, though — had raised enormous hopes of an encore to ’83 in ’07. However, the team that reached the Caribbean looked a pale shadow of the one in 2003.
So what is it about India and England that, even after swimming in the sea of mediocrity for a while now, 11 men can still capture the imagination of entire countries?
Well, the media hype, for starters. When India crushed the West Indies in a warm-up game days before the World Cup, the country was absolutely convinced they would go all the way. Similarly, after England’s 6-0 thrashing of Jamaica — of all countries — Britons were convinced their players had it in them to go all the way, if only a few chinks were ironed out.
Truth be told, they did have everything going for them — a big-name coach, superstars on the roster and most importantly, a ‘golden generation’ of players coming together. Yet, they failed.
What is it that stops India and England just short — or in India’s case in 2007 — hopelessly short? Is it a genuine lack of killer instinct? Complacency? Are they just plain underachievers on the biggest stage of them all? Or are the members that make up the team bigger than the team itself? England have proven Premiership superstars in the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, while India have in Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, among the best batsmen in the world.
But then again, all is not lost for the faltering England’s superstars. They can always redeem themselves in their club colours in the league and a number of major tournaments such as the Champions League and the European Championships, although getting to the Euro is the bigger concern at the moment. Lampard, who couldn’t score for love and money in Germany, almost magically put on his scoring boots for Chelsea. The superstars are back to being demi-gods and all is forgotten and maybe, even forgotten.
For the beleaguered Indian cricketers, though, there will be no such respite. There is no stage bigger in one-day cricket than the World Cup and the Caribbean was the last shot at glory for many. No matter how well the team does in tri-series and quadrangular tournaments, it will always be reminded of that fateful Caribbean cruise in 2007.
And even if India win the battle against Bangladesh in the forthcoming series, the truth is that Bangladesh have won the war.