Sunday, January 29, 2012

A fan's note on Indian cricket

I don’t remember when exactly I began to have this fear, but the specter of an Indian team shorn of its extraordinary fortune (there’s no other way to describe how so many great batsmen turned up at the same time) numbed my pleasure as a fan for a long time. For many years this team achieved less than it was capable of, and so, if it won when it wasn’t supposed to, I believed that things had come together for one long moment. But a losing team that starts winning is a strange thing: many of its fans celebrate, but some, like me, are left deeply uneasy. Not much has changed, so how did we start winning?

When I look back now, I see the comfort we found in constant underachievement. We were anchored to our failures, of which we were very aware. They hung around, reminding us of what needed to be done before we could set sail. But we slipped away by choosing the lubrication of good fortune over the struggle of creation. Well, here we are, finally run aground on a reef of We-told-you-so’s.

Now that our luck has left us, I feel oddly reassured. What remains is not actions but words that expose the hollowness of this team’s spirit. It is built on revenge, on the mistaken belief that they will show us, and we will be converts once more. They talk in the abstraction of numbers, they remind us of the good times, they tell us we need to stand behind them. There has been hubris, not humility; they speak not of remedying themselves but of doctoring pitches. Here they are, cold, frightened, and utterly lost. Orphans.

And from afar, from the man in exile, come solutions the length of an SMS. This, that, that too, and don’t forget this. Obvious solutions, old solutions - all put forward half a decade ago, and then discarded by him. He did not see luck as an opportunity to buy more time and create his own. Instead, he set about taking control and creating wealth. But those values were on paper, and ultimately they hinge on how the sport is played. Which he largely ignored. The funny money paid for those crazy Indian broadcast deals? Those weren’t for Indian cricket, they were for Indian cricket’s superstars. Now some of India’s greatest batsmen will leave and what happens next should be fun.

Here’s what we have. We are left with a team, or the remains of a team, that has fewer spinners than England does. Putting it mildly, we now regard Harbhajan Singh with something like fondness. The board talks about avoiding whitewashes. Dravid says there is no hurry to decide on his retirement. Laxman says nothing. Sachin waits, and we wait with him. This is as it was. These are the failures we were anchored to a decade ago. And here they are again. Except that the greatest batting lineup ever is now behind us, as is the finest Indian spinner.

The promise of this team lies in men who haven’t announced themselves yet. So I know I will wait for them to come along, as they have always done, and remind us that Indian cricket is alive once more. But again, and I have to keep reminding myself of this, it will be our fortune that takes us forward.

This time, though, the specter of good fortune deserting us can be some other fan’s private nightmare. I’ve seen this once; it’s all I can take, frankly.

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