The Indian cricket team may have lost its — vastly optimistic, in retrospect — bid to win the World Cup, but the rest of India seems to have lost the plot completely. We started off with much hype about the Indian Tigers who were going to go out and conquer the world on behalf of the Blue Billion. And now that our team has been ejected from the tournament in the first round itself, registering a humiliating loss against Bangladesh and a disappointing show against Sri Lanka, all that hyperbole has been replaced with wall-to-wall hysteria.
The sms campaign is gathering strength with each passing day, and the jokes about the Indian cricket team are getting more and more vicious. But that is just about par for the course and may even serve as a harmless release for the pent-up anger and frustration of the genuine cricket fan. And to put a positive spin on things, it shows that we can still laugh about our fallen heroes and broken dreams, even if that laughter does ring hollow in our ears.
The problem is that humour — black or otherwise — is the least of it. The cricket-crazy Indian public is not content to laugh, or even cry, and move on. No, they intend to make their displeasure felt in the most unpleasant of ways. So, we have the sorry spectacle of ‘fans’ gathering on the streets to shout angry slogans, blackening the faces of their false idols, burning their effigies, attacking their posters with chappals.
The violence of their feelings finds expression in angry demonstrations held outside the houses of prominent players (never mind that they are still in the West Indies), complete with stone-throwing and wanton destruction of property. After Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s under-construction house in Ranchi was vandalised, security has had to be beefed up outside his team mates’ homes.
What makes this even worse is that the hysteria is not restricted to a lunatic fringe, the so-called cricket fanatics, who treat the game as a quasi-religion and the players as demi-gods. No, the media join in this shrill chorus of invective, with each news channel vying with the other to heap abuse on the same players it had built up as giant killers just a few weeks ago. Fans are encouraged to send messages on how they feel about the defeat (well, duh, how do you think?), people on the streets are accosted by camera crews and asked to give their reaction to our World Cup loss, and shrill studio discussions are held to denounce our performance.
Suddenly, everybody is an expert on cricket. Angry young men shout about how Sachin should be dropped. Others insist that Dravid’s head should roll and Tendulkar should become captain. Then, there are those who blame coach Greg Chappell for ruining the game in this country. Others have the knives out for the selectors. And how could we possibly forget the BCCI in this equal opportunity hate fest? The administrators, earlier hailed as financial geniuses for making so much money from the game, are now pilloried as villains of the piece.
The areas of criticism against the players are now well-worn with use. The primary grouse seems to be that the team is not committed enough.
The players care more about making money through endorsements than about the game. They spend more time shooting commercials than practising at the nets. Nobody seems to recognise the central flaw in this argument. Unless our Men in Blue perform well on the field, they are not likely to make much money off it. And even if they aren’t all intellectual giants, they can figure out this much.
Also, it is highly cynical to assume that they are just in it for the big bucks. Of course, they make a good living — and if we don’t want them to, we should just stop watching cricket — but they also have their share of sporting spirit. Even if you forget all that jingoistic nonsense about taking patriotic pride in representing India, they didn’t get this far by being losers.
So let’s remember that however disappointed we are, it is nothing compared to what our team is feeling. We may be distraught but our pain is much less keenly felt than theirs. They know that they haven’t just let down a billion people, they have let themselves down as well.
This was the last World Cup for players of the vintage of Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. And even if the Yuvraj Singhs and Mahendra Singh Dhonis survive four years to make another bid, there is no saying how they will fare. So, for most members of the team this is a dream that has died, never to be revived again. And the knowledge that their under-performance is to blame will make this loss even harder to bear.
Yes, there is no denying that this may well be Indian cricket’s lowest point. But foaming at the mouth, or even mouthing off, is not going to get us anywhere. We need to introspect deeply on our loss and decide how best Indian cricket can recover from this blow. But while we do that, let’s not forget that this is just a game. And if, despite everything, we insist on turning every loss into a national calamity, then at least we should learn to mourn with dignity.