Over the years I have come to care increasingly less for cricket, partly because with the aging of my cells, the very essence of what I am, I have become physically desensitized to things that once aroused great passion like mihidana-sitabhog, Shilpa Shirodhkar in the rains and discussions of why Nayan Mongia played that shot in Chennai, partly because there is always cricket now and games and tournaments have lost any form of meaning or historical context, because there is always the next one.
Except the World Cup.
Maybe because there is some memory of what the game used to mean for me once in those two words “World Cup”, of Dave Houghton as the superman, and Lara surgically cutting through the South African off-side cordon against Symcox, of Akram jagging back into Alan Lamb, Venkatesh Prasad giving Pakistani Punjabi machismo a firm kick in the middle-stump, Sachin Tendulkar sending Akthar over, De Freitas ending the Gavaskar era, Richards’s head tilting up to Madan Lal and Kapil running back and changing the history of independent India, a chain of moments that define not only pinnacle of sport but also fragments of myself through the years, the smiles, the tears, the clenched fists and the urgent need to believe in men once I no longer believed in Gods.
Today’s defeat hit me hard. In the way that defeat in 87 and 96 did. In 2015 we lost in the semis too, but there I was proud of the way India played. On fast Australian tracks, we punched many categories above our weight level, dominating the group stages before we ran into Australia on a juiced up pitch. We had no business going that far but we did, and one could not but feel proud of the team for that. In 2003, we lost too, but there again we did great to get into the finals on surfaces not suited to our game and with Dinesh Mongia, where we lost to a side which was a few light years ahead us and the world in every department of the game. In 2007, we carried an old team and the coach was a mess, and we did exactly as we should have. I was angry, but I wasn’t this sad.
In 87 I was sad. I was sad when against a sub-standard English team, two left-arm spinners, Maninder and the other our current national coach, fed Gooch in the exact zone he was most comfortable in till he had a century against his name, and then with the game still very much in our reach, Kapil Dev went for the bravura shot against Eddie Hemmings and holed out.
In 96 I was sad. I was sad when we took the wrong decision on winning the toss, and then after….well…I don’t need to tell you, if you are reading this, you know what happened, and if you don’t, let me introduce you to the app called Tiktok.
Did I say sad? No scratch that. I was gutted. Because I knew we were so much better than this, that we lost because of ourselves.
And now in 2019. Once again that feeling, a feeling I no longer thought possible. Coming in as favorites to England, and for good reason too, this is the best bowling attack this country has ever had, India’s performance never hit 80% of peak and I am being generous. The game we won were because of one man, Rohit Sharma, and Virat Kohli, greatest batsman of all time for India as he maybe, never really hit his top gear, dialing it in, like Naseeruddin Shah in commercial movies. And we were carrying Dhoni, no matter what his fans would say, and it all come to a head in the first knock-out game of the tournament.
Top 3 number one. Now Top 3 each score one. After that expecting Dinesh Kartik to bail India out would require Soumya Sarkar bowling at both ends, and that not even Amit Shah and Ambani together can manage.
It’s on days like these that the team looks to their captain for inspiration, Kapil after 17/5 and Dhoni in the final, this is where those whose batting number look good on paper make their way into the pages of history books, and Kohli failed. Team India failed. Despite being the better team. In contrast, one only had to look at Williamson to see how things should have been done, both got identical fresh conditions, but then the outcomes diverged. And how.
It’s of course time for introspection. Which means a series with Sri Lanka at home. And going back to cricket by the numbers, the flaccid fizz of franchise T20s, and a state of comfortable numbness.