(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, dated 6th March, 2010)
“So, you very nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory…,” Ravi Shastri looks down at Dhoni.
“Oh, it’s all thanks to the boys. They really came together for this,” Dhoni grins.
“And this, you think, is representative of the country,” I smirk to my brother.
Half an hour earlier, I had been all excited about finally watching a good game of cricket, and laughing as the South African tail enders took the Indian bowlers and fielders to task, while one of my brothers was fretting about the country’s reputation going for a toss, and another was cursing himself for choosing cricket over Liverpool vs. Manchester City. At some point, both of them had found a common enemy in me, for my purported lack of patriotism.
What I don’t get is why, while most of the country can’t name more than five freedom fighters or three Olympic medallists or two Nobel laureates or one Oscar winner from India, these eleven men are considered representative of the country’s goals, dreams and global standing. More so, when they go around slapping each other, getting away with swearing at the opposition, refusing to wear numbers on their shirts because of superstitions, calling Sachin back from personal emergencies to rescue the team, stripping at Lord’s and likely spending more time endorsing brands than at fielding practice.
You’re allowed to remain neutral and want to watch ‘a good game’ as long as it’s football, tennis or basketball. But cricket – oh no, it’s practically the national sport, and you’re supposed to make a show of your patriotism. To hear Indians speak of the 1983 Prudential World Cup, a tourist might well be forgiven for thinking it is the country’s sole achievement in team sport. I wonder how many people know the Indian hockey team remained unbeaten in the Olympics for twenty-eight years, and has won more gold medals than any other national team. And yet, the Hockey World Cup being held in India is endorsed by a model-turned-actress rather than its team members.
At what point of time and why, did a game that nine (or is it eleven now?) countries officially play, become the focal point of national sentiment? Why was the IPL auction such a diplomatic disaster? Would three Pakistani players being auctioned off successfully have resulted in an exchange of bouquets between New Delhi and Islamabad, and the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue? When Indians are being attacked in Australia and diplomats from that country are urging us not to see it as a race-related issue, should our biggest concern be whether Australian cricketers want to play in India?
If the Indian cricket team’s performance is to be considered the parameter of the country’s capabilities, maybe our taxes should be diverted entirely to their salaries, ground maintenance and the other key areas of Indian cricket. This would leave the corporates free to sponsor road-building, flyover construction, natural-disaster-related rehabilitation programmes across the world, and most importantly, diplomatic dialogue.
Think of the enormous potential this holds! If the foreign secretaries of India, and the enemy countries we are surrounded by, were under contract to, say Sahara or Pepsi, and could expect bonuses for a definite result, had rankings to fight for and had trophies to win for not making faux pas, would we have to waste so much newsprint reporting ineffective talks? Most importantly, the politicians taking part in the austerity drive wouldn’t have to fight with airline employees for free upgrades. They could sigh, shrug and say, “what to do? An austerity drive is in direct contention with LG’s motto, and it would be flouting our contract norms…”