Wailing and gnashing

I know it was you, Rohit. You broke my heart. With apologies to Godfather Michael Corleone.

India is out of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, to accord the tournament its proper nomenclature. The word cricket is missing from the title, but that is typical of those who run this game worldwide. They think everyone must know what they are talking about. How could those living in the Outer Hebrides or Mongolia not have heard about this Maharaja of Sports. Being a rhetorical question, I shall eschew the customary interrogatory squiggle. As I said, India’s players are coming back home, suitably chastened with tails securely tucked between their legs, after being roundly, mercilessly and comprehensively beaten by England in the semi-final. It would not be an exaggeration to say that England wiped the floor with our boys. The much hoped for and hyped-up India – Pakistan final will not take place in Melbourne come Sunday. Let the customary wailing (or weeping) and gnashing of teeth begin. If you are moved to extremes, breast beating will not be looked askance at.

 I do not wish to go into the details of the hows and whys of our manner of defeat, as our newspapers and television channels will be full of it anyway, and every single one of our humongous citizenry will have his or her opinion on the subject, and will be airing them, often abusively, through Twitter or Facebook or whatever. On cricketing matters, I only wish to say that if India managed to cobble together 168 runs, puffing and panting, thanks to some late innings heroics, and England hammered out those runs with 10 wickets in hand and 4 overs to spare, then something is clearly rotten in the state of Denmark. I will leave the painful post-mortem to the millions of social media pundits, who are already at it with a vengeance. Long live cancel culture. ‘Dravid should resign,’ ‘Rohit and K.L. Rahul should be shown the door,’ ‘Make Pandya the captain,’ ‘Bring back Dhoni,’ ‘Our bowlers should be pensioned.’ If you are one of those REM (Rapid Eye Movement) readers, the word is ‘pensioned,’ not ‘poisoned.’ Have yourselves a ball guys.

Then again, there are those who console themselves by saying that it was better that we lost to England than to go into the finals and get thrashed by Pakistan. That would have been intolerable, an ignominy worse than death. Mamma Mia! Even my driver used to wax eloquent, ‘never mind who we lose to Saar, but NOT Pakistan!’ These feelings run deep. And who do those slimy Pakis think they are, anyway? They pretend to play badly initially, lose a couple of games, leaving their opponents wallowing in a false sense of security, and before you can say Babar Azam, they sneak up on you when you are not looking and start beating the living daylights out of everyone in sight. Their bowlers suddenly become unplayable and their batsmen go berserk. Just not done. Not cricket. This is exactly what they did, the Pakis, in 1992 under former Prime Minister Imran (isn’t he gorgeous!) Khan and went on to win the ODI World Cup in Australia.

Anyhow, who gives a toss what happens now? For all I care, Pakistan can beat England black and blue or, for that matter, Captain Buttler can serve up a royal feast, like he did against us in Adelaide. It won’t matter a jot. Many avid followers of the game in India take vicarious pleasure in seeing Pakistan lose to some other opponent, if India were not in the mix. This dog in the manger attitude is baffling. Not that I will be jumping for joy if Pakistan lift the trophy, but why should we want England, a country that ruled us for close to 200 years and was the primary cause for India and Pakistan to undergo a Caesarian section and become two perennially warring nations, to be victorious? Purely on an emotional plane, I mean. Subsequently we helped give birth, normal delivery, to Bangladesh. At least this young nation does the decent thing and keeps losing to us more often than not. That is gratitude. Let me quickly add that I have many very fine English friends, and I travel often to that ‘green and pleasant land,’ so this is nothing personal. However, history is history. And cricket is cricket.

All right, let me admit to being somewhat hypocritical here. I do care about winning or losing a cricket match against our neighbours from the western borders. When we lost to England in the semis, thus denying ourselves another opportunity to slip it across Pakistan, I did not exactly lock myself in the bathroom and blub my eyes out, but it was a near thing. I blamed my inflamed red eyes, when my concerned wife inquired, on a fictitious errant gnat that got wedged in my right eye, and an imaginary fly that took care of the left eye. It was a weak excuse and the better half was decent enough not to probe any further. By now she is fully seized of what happens metabolically to grown men when sporting results go base over apex. Anyhow, the brief moment of madness passed, and I am now ready to get back to watching top-class tennis at the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin. As a spectator sport, tennis is my first love anyway. And that is not sour grapes. No India or Pakistan representative there to destroy my equilibrium. ‘Go Rafa!,’ ‘Go Djoko!,’ about sums it up.

Eminent Marxist intellectual, political activist and Trinidadian cricket lover C.L.R. James, in his brilliant book Beyond a Boundary wrote, ‘What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?’ He was paraphrasing Rudyard Kipling’s similar observation pertaining to England but the saying resonates across many of us cricket enthusiasts from an earlier generation. The game could be appreciated, win or lose, for the glorious literature it produced, for the unforgettable comments it evoked on radio and television, for the lyrical press coverage we devoured every day of a Test Match, whereby merely reading such reports by writers of repute would induce most readers to first turn to the sports pages. Politics could go hang. My eyes are welling up again, but this time out of nostalgia’s rose-tinted glasses and not because we lost a silly cricket match.

Now that cricket is momentarily placed on the back burner, and big-time tennis will ephemerally keep me interested, we are approaching, just round the corner in fact, FIFA World Cup Football. Qatar, the middle-eastern kingdom got the nod to host the event, amidst some controversy, but the games will go ahead. The mother of all sports galas comes around once every four years, and keeps most sports aficionados glued to their television screens. Once again, for those of us in India, we can enjoy the brilliance and artistry of Messi and company for its own sake. No patriotic fervour involved as India is unlikely to be a participant during my lifetime. One is thus an extremely involved, if disinterested, spectator. One can also derive much fun out of the colourful gaiety displayed by the devout fans of their respective countries. Brazil and Argentina will be leading the Latin American challenge while Germany and France will hope to keep the European flag flying. Astonishingly, former champions Italy failed to qualify. England, despite their huge build-up, invariably flatter to deceive, but for some strange reason, they have a strong following in India. English football fans do no credit to their country, but they had better mind their Ps and Qs in Qatar if they value their lives and limbs. Quite literally! The authorities there deal with hooliganism rather summarily.

I end, as I started, with cricket. A very dear English friend of mine sent me this message minutes after England had trounced India at the T20 World Cup in Adelaide. ‘I won’t mention Adelaide. Oops too late, I just have.’ I am already fashioning my telling response to him depending on what happens in the final when England take on Pakistan. Do I wish for Pakistan to win so I can get my own back on my English pal? Or do I hope for an England victory so that Pakistan’s bragging rights are nipped in the bud and all of India will find joy in schadenfreude?

It is a Hamletian dilemma.

PS: I am deliberately posting this blog a day before the start of that final game between England and Pakistan. Knowing the result will add nothing to this piece and probably ruin it for me.

Published by sureshsubrahmanyan

A long time advertising professional, now retired, and taken up writing as a hobby. Deeply interested in music of various genres, notably Carnatic and 60's and 70's pop/rock. An avid tennis and cricket fan. Voracious reader of British humour and satire. P.G. Wodehouse a perennial favourite.

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