How do kids usually console themselves after a defeat in a game? “You win some, you lose some.” Why do adults find it so difficult to have the same maturity and grace when the Indian cricket team is off form for a while, after what may well be an overkill of tournaments? Players are human beings, not machines. Even machines break down but our ‘super human’ cricketers can never afford the luxury of faltering.
The average fan, it appears, will never grow up. Never stop short of extremes – deifying their cricket heroes when they win and even stooping with rape threats to the skipper’s baby daughter, when they take a beating from the better side of the day. Never cut them some slack. Never understand that form is temporary, talent is permanent.
One does concede that cricket is followed with almost religious fervour in our country. Or, for that matter, we cannot deny that given the public adulation and fanfare cricketers enjoy, the expectation that they must give out their best on the field as Team India, is obviously more than their roles as IPL players or models in advertisements. But everyone is entitled to their good days and bad days. It cannot be the case of fans that optimum performance is possible 24×7.
How does winning or losing a cricket match actually affect our lives? How do we react to action or inaction that actually touches our lives? Do the average citizens hold our elected representatives to the same sky-high standards? Do we question them over non-fulfillment of election promises? Over their absence in Assemblies or Parliament? Over the quality of speeches, number of sessions attended or questions raised? Over corruption? Over switching loyalties? When sections of the fourth estate have stopped playing an adversarial role, choosing to be lapdogs instead of watchdogs, why are we so harsh on our cricketers? On that subject, do we applaud well meaning initiatives by good political leaders? Or brush them aside with the usual ‘just for votes’ refrain?
Like most citizens, I too have been a die-hard cricket fan, before graduating to covering the game on national television, sometimes travelling with the team to report on tournaments abroad. (And now representing some of them in Court) The hard work that players put in to be where they are must be seen at the nets. It’s easy to lie on a couch with a bowl of butter pop corn and do arm chair analysis with multiple social media platforms to spout. I’ve even come across blokes who have never held a cricket bat or ball but pontificate on how this shot could have been played or that ball ought to have been bowled.
Yes, the disappointment is intense with every defeat. Two nail biting setbacks of the past are still fresh in my mind. 1986. The Austal Asia Cup. What else but an India Vs Pakistan one-day encounter. Pakistan needed 4 runs to win off the last ball. Javed Miandad was at the crease. Medium pacer Chetan Sharma charged it with an attempted yorker that turned out to be a juicy full toss. The words of commentator Narottam Puri still ring in my ears: “It’s a six and Pakistan have won.” My heart broke that evening.
A few months later, in an India Vs Australia Test Match, we needed just 1 run to win. Tail ender Maninder Singh had to face off spinner Greg Mathews. Imagine our grief when Maninder was out, leg before, resulting in a historic tied Test.
How can I forget that goosebump moment when Chennai spectators at the M.A.Chidambaram stadium gave arch rival Pakistan a standing ovation after their victory against us in 1999? This time, I remember commentator Harsha Bhogle asserting how the game of cricket and sportsmanship had truly won and how the namma Madras crowd were the real champions.
Where has that spirit vanished?
If you want to display muscular nationalism, even jingoism, fine. You can do that by paying your taxes, supporting good causes, and yes, wearing masks. To use cricketers as soft targets makes you a loser. Howzatt?