Just Like That | Victory and vilification: The dual nature of Indian cricket fandom

It was soul-lifting to see the nation coming together in a euphoric celebration when the victorious Indian cricket team returned on July 4 with the coveted T-20 World Cup in their hands. India had come close to winning it on several occasions earlier, but now after a hiatus of 13 years, we had finally succeeded. The final match with South Africa was a complete thriller. The entire country was glued to their TVs, as India, quite literally, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Fireworks broke out spontaneously, and it was joyous to see the rejoicing of people across the country.

Fans crowd around a bus as the Indian cricket team members take part in a parade to celebrate winning the ICC men’s T20 World Cup, in Mumbai, India, July 4, 2024. REUTERS/Hemanshi Kamani (REUTERS)(HT_PRINT)

Such a reaction is only natural, as cricket is our national obsession. The Indian team displayed remarkable resilience, discipline, focus and skill due to diligent training and practice for this landmark event. It deserves all the praise of a grateful nation and seems to have received it amply. The visuals from the Indian team’s victory parade through Marine Drive in Mumbai were striking, with thousands of fans lining the street. The convoy could have been the envy of even the most popular politicians. Each member of the team has instantaneously become a national hero.

But I often wonder whether we as a people oscillate effortlessly between absolute adulation and absolute condemnation, absolute euphoria and absolute disappointment, absolute praise and absolute criticism. What if Suryakumar Yadav had missed that spectacular catch in that critical over, which turned out to be the turning point in a match in which we had every chance of losing? After all, it was a split second between first catching the ball and putting it in the air, crossing the boundary and returning inside quickly to complete the catch. If he would have dropped the catch, would the same adoring fans display understanding at his failure, or vilify him for it?

If we had lost, everything that could be considered wrong in our batting line-up, bowling, fielding and fitness to win, would have been analysed and over-analysed, including a fair amount of “informed” criticism. Virat Kohli’s patchy performance, Rohit Sharma’s captaincy, and even the selection of the team would have been questioned. Although the calibre of our team would be the same, the same adoring crowds would be less than half the number, if not missing altogether upon the team’s return.

Many of our cricketers have faced such a situation. When Arshdeep Singh dropped a catch in the 18th over in a decisive match against Pakistan in the Super Four Asia Cup tournament in Dubai, he was viciously trolled by the same admiring crowds that lined up to greet him as a hero after we won the World Cup this year. He was viciously abused and even labelled a Khalistani. His very loyalties to the nation were questioned. The Sikh apex religious bodies had to protest at this deplorable trashing based on his religion. Virat Kohli stood by him, but several Indians were unforgiving. We can only imagine what a toll this must have taken on the psyche and mental well-being of this talented cricketer.

Till just a month ago, Hardik Pandya was mercilessly trolled for his captaincy of Mumbai Indians (MI) in the Indian Premier League tournament. Pandya replaced Rohit Sharma as the captain of MI and became the hapless target of millions of fans for his lacklustre performance. He was booed on the field by spectators, he was targeted over his personal life, and the absolute condemnation can only be described as extremely distasteful and ugly. When he failed to hit the big shots that were expected of him, the fans jeered at him.

Former Indian team cricket player, Robin Uthappa, was compelled to comment on Pandya’s situation: “This guy (Pandya) knows… he’s well aware of the mocking, trolling, the memes about his fitness. You don’t think it hurts him? It hurts any human being. How many people know the reality of it? Hardik is dealing with mental health issues, for sure. We, as people, I understand are emotional. But it is not right to impose this kind of treatment on any human being. It is unbecoming as a society for us to do that to someone and be okay with it. We should not be laughing at it, should not be forwarding it.”

After our World Cup win, the previously reviled Hardik Pandya and Arshdeep Singh were hailed as heroes. Doesn’t this say something about our character? Of course, nothing indeed succeeds like success. But should we not have some balance in our appraisals, where everything is either absolutely wrong or right? In any sport, a player does his or her best. A lot depends on their abilities, but there is always the role of luck. We played well and won. But even if we did not, our reactions should not be so extreme. The Bhagavad Gita teaches us to take victory and failure in our stride, retaining our equilibrium. There is, I think, a need for introspection.

But for the moment, I join every Indian in congratulating our team and rejoicing at our victory.

Pavan K Varma is author, diplomat, and former Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha). Just Like That is a weekly column where Varma shares nuggets from the world of history, culture, literature, and personal reminiscences. The views expressed are personal

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