Ranjona Banerji: Sportsmanship applies to fans, too

Jun 21, 2017, 06:49 IST | Ranjona Banerji

Though India's loss in the ICC Champions Trophy was a shocker, as a fan, one must remember that winning and losing is part of the game

Fans at the ICC Champions Trophy final cricket match between India and Pakistan in London on Sunday. Pic/AFP
Fans at the ICC Champions Trophy final cricket match between India and Pakistan in London on Sunday. Pic/AFP

India lost a much-dreamed-about cricket match on Sunday night. It was a terrible loss, not just because of the smashed expectations of a cricket-mad nation but also the manner of the loss. And even worse, whom we lost to. That Pakistan would even reach the final of the Champions Trophy was not even a factor at the start. That India would, was almost a foregone conclusion.

Indian fans are naturally devastated. My commiserations. I rarely watch cricket but even I was surprised by Pakistan's domination from the get-go, so unlike their early performance in the tournament when they were walloped by India. As a sports fan, I feel the pain.
What I do not understand and never have with fans of Indian cricket, is how we veer from one extreme to the other when it comes to the Indian team. They are either the best or the worst. Yes, we want them to win every time they play. But, we appear to assume, with no sense of our underlying irrationality, that even the opposing team wants India to win every time India plays.

It is true that all the match-fixing and spot-fixing cases for the past 17 years have eroded confidence in cricketers. But, it is also true that almost no cricket-playing country has been free of allegations of hanky-panky — players from all teams have been implicated, starting with the late once-great Hansie Cronje of South Africa.

But, it is not as if all hope in cricket ended in 2000. We still rejoice when our teams win. And indeed, we rejoiced with every Indian win since the final. But now, as usual, the knives are out after one loss. We blame the BCCI, the committee of administrators, the coaches, the captain, all the players, maybe even the physio, of somehow wilfully deciding to lose the final, if only to annoy cricket fans.

If the Indian team was so terrible that everyone needed to be sacked, how did it reach the final at all? After all, the same team beat Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa and Sri Lanka quite emphatically to get to the final. Obviously the loss in the final will have to be analysed and worked upon. But, for the team to be excoriated for one loss against an inspired team — well, that sentiment just beats me.

At the risk of being accused of descending to truisms, surely the bedrock of any sport is that one team or person wins and another loses — even in a sport that is prone to draws? "Glorious uncertainties" was the favourite cliché of cricket commentators in the days of the radio commentary of my childhood. What happens on any given day on the ground, on the field, in the arena, on the court is why we watch sports. That unknown is what makes it magical, watchable, exciting and awe-inspiring.

Tennis is what I understand better and it is full of unknowns beating champions at unlikely times. Who would have expected defending champion Pete Sampras to be beaten by a young hopeful — all potential no track record — like Roger Federer at the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2001? In 2013, I watched in horror, at centre court, an inspired unstoppable Sergiy Stakhovsky defeat defending champion Federer in the second round at Wimbledon. What does one do as a die-hard fan? Suck it up and move on to the next tournament. Payback came when Federer defeated Nadal in the Australian Open final this year. It was a long wait but oh so worth it!

Similarly, for Nadal fans, his record, earth-shattering 10th win at Roland Garros was redemption for his slump, especially to a strong Novak Djokovic. Who is now dealing with his own slump, as it happens. Swings and roundabouts, that is what sport is. If you don't understand that, you are not a sports fan. You are an insecure jingoistic sports fanatic.

Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli said this after the loss: "I want to congratulate Pakistan, they had an amazing tournament, the way they turned things around, speaks volumes for the talent they have. They proved it again, they can upset anyone on their day, disappointing for us, but I have a smile on my face because we played well to reach the final."

To me, those are words of a champion: gracious in defeat. We should try it.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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