The media, in order to increase TRPs, went to unimaginable extremes and added fuel to the fire. Losing to Pakistan seemed no longer an option for the Men in Blue. Yes, it was the semifinal of the World Cup, but would the build-up have been the same had it been any other team?
I doubt it. In fact, now that we have beaten Pakistan, it's considered okay if we lose to Sri Lanka in the final, for we have been avenged. Don't you find it strange? What does it tell you about our evolution as a responsible nation?
Let me go back to the 1920s when cricket, a European sport, was finding its feet in India. There was an annual quadrangular tournament featuring a team each of Hindus, Muslims, Parsees and British. Initially, these matches were played and seen as a sport but when the freedom movement gained steam, the stakes changed. These encounters were seen and used as the vehicles to assert our presence and our right to freedom.
Every British loss on the cricket pitch was viewed as the nation's victory over the rulers. But even then the Indians (called natives) didn't take up the sport to get even with the rulers; they took it up because they liked playing it.
Post-independence and the division of the country, we carried forward the same sentiment i.e. sport being the vehicle to assert supremacy. We've fought wars with Pakistan and still continue to have other equally important issues plaguing us. Yet, there's enough reason to believe that we as people, have matured and come a long way in trimming down that animosity, especially via Bollywood and numerous other cultural exchanges. Or, at least I'd like to believe that India has definitely evolved into a responsible nation.
Unfortunately though, all it took was a cricket match to topple that process of evolution. Besides, would it not be fair to spare a thought for the cricketers involved in the game? We cricketers are also a product of the same environment.
We also understand the importance of an India-Pakistan game and want to beat them every time we meet. But we also realise it might not be possible every single time.
We know we carry the expectations of a billion people, but, at the same time, we too are humans and can take only so much pressure.
We try to insulate ourselves by not reading newspapers or watching TV, but despite our best efforts, we can't completely go into a cocoon. While we want to think positively all the time, the thought of a possible loss followed by a backlash finds its way into our minds. What if we lose this game against Pakistan? Will our effigies be burnt? Will our houses be vandalised and will our families be safe? Will we be the nation's pariahs just because we couldn't win a game of cricket?
Memories from 2003 loom large in my mind, when fans vandalised Kaif's house. For the first time ever, we felt unsure about our families.
It's time we, as a nation, answer these questions. Are we going to behave like this every time we play Pakistan? If we detest them so much, it may not be a bad idea to severe all cricketing ties with them, for a cricket match can't be used as a benchmark to prove our superiority as a nation. Every time we behave like the way we did this time, it pulls us down as a responsible nation.