Friday, December 1, 2023

This World Cup Defeat Will Hurt India, And They Should Let It

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Though it’s been nearly two days since India lost the final, fans are still grieving and that’s okay, writes Sarah Waris.

To truly feel what cricket means in India, a walk around any bustling street in any part of the country on Monday morning would have given you an answer. The start of the week is as disliked in this part of the world as it is anywhere else, but there’s also an inexplicable energy of looking ahead to a new start that revitalises.

It begins with the morning walkers, who use the stroll as an excuse to catch up with their old mates before binging on the unhealthiest deep-fried kachoris, becoming the first to welcome the bright rays of the sun.

The state buses, barely held together in frame, soon start making an appearance, filling the air with gusts of pollution and breaking the silence with blaring engines. They become spaces for jostling men and women as they move along to different stops, carrying individuals who take out their crankiness on fellow passengers, conductors and then colleagues, most of whom have assembled after a similarly uncomfortable journey on either the local train or the metro. The ones travelling by Uber do not have it easy either, complaining about the unending traffic with collective sighs as their clock-in time nears.

But the familiar cacophony was amiss this week. As the monotony of everyday life was repeated, it felt quieter, the daze broken only by the clamour of the horns and the screeching tyres. Nothing made sense; an existential crisis like no other.

Ever since India lost the World Cup trophy they nearly had in their hands after six weeks of stunning performances in all departments, it has been tough to shake off the many happy blurbs that were provided. Even as the world found faults, some exaggerated, some reasonable, over a billion Indians came together to potentially see off their two greatest stars. They came for Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli but soon also embraced the other nine players as their own, moving away from only purchasing jerseys with numbers ‘45’ and ‘18’ on the back, giving equal love to ‘93 Bumrah’ or ‘11 Shami’, too.

More than 1.5 million fans turned up for the event as a whole, making it the largest-attended ICC event ever, but a majority were there just for India and have no shame in admitting that. Criticisms about empty stands during neutral games sparked off debates about the future of ODIs but you would have been left wondering what the fuss was about as a sea of blue engulfed each of the nine stadiums that India played in.

The template was familiar: Rohit started off the innings, Kohli led the middle-order to a big score before Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul ended with a flourish. For possibly the first time, India’s bowling was equally adored, the ooohs and aaahs interspersed with brilliance from the deadly quicks and slower bowlers.

They played for the stands, and the spectators responded in turn. Every rendition of Vande Mataram under the dim lights induced goosebumps, the complaints of foreign players having issues with the show falling on deaf ears. It was, after all, India’s moment, hosting the World Cup on their own for the first time, and hordes came together, despite the many hurdles and inconveniences, to take them towards glory.

For six weeks, there was one dream. Strangers discussed cricket, the hawkers shut shop to watch cricket, and journalists with inner access to the team suddenly attained VIP status for the hundreds that would gather outside stadiums every time India pulled in for training. “Did you meet Kohli? Did you give Bumrah our best wishes? Is Shubman Gill as handsome in real life?” Yes, yes and yes.

It was a celebration of 11 brilliant individuals that even forced warring political parties BJP and Congress to unite; an occasion that was to culminate in Ahmedabad on November 19 with the grandest trophy in hand, wrapping up a memorable few days of excellence. The anticipation was at an all-time high, the belief was unflinching and the frenzy was just a win away.

But it was not to be.

A teary-eyed Mohammed Siraj opened the taps of emotion. They cried, and the fans followed. There is nothing to distract from the defeat, not the perfect chocolate cake and not the famous Gulati’s butter chicken that has often been an instant mood-lifter. Desperate attempts to watch a National Award-winning Hindi movie went in vain as you drifted towards Bumrah’s shrieks and Kohli’s stares over the last few days before Mimi’s sudden cry after realising her life had taken an unexpected turn broke the trance.

Lucky must be those who often have the perfect fairytale ending. For India, it wasn’t to be once again. You’d think the multiple heartbreaks since 2014 would have made their fans stronger, but they also knew this was India’s best chance. Most times, they scrambled to the knockouts, this time they pushed down doors.

An eerie silence prevailed the morning after. It was business as usual for most, but it also wasn’t a normal day for most, the heart feeling heavy at a great loss that needed to be grieved. There’s no escaping it, maybe accepting it could help.

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