Thursday, November 30, 2006

A terrible love affair

Indians have a noted fondness for cricket, but what use is love without understanding and empathy? The reaction to the losses in South Africa is by now predictable. As the team alternates between victory and defeat, its followers move from peace to violence. Followers aren't necessarily fans.

The hooliganism of Indian watchers is rarely spoken about. The tendency to depict fans as an oppressed bunch of cricket tragics who descend into violence as a result of daily suffering is a tired and lazy generalization. Indians can now buy more, there are more places to attend to and more forms of entertainment. Yet violence is justified by love and the people's sentiments, as if the two explain everything. After a particularly torrid game against Australia in 2003, Mohammad Kaif's home was painted black by aggrieved people. A few days ago it was caked with cow dung as a way of conveying disappointment. But because the forum was yet again a violent one, the message was clearer than that: if you don't win we can hurt you. The threat of a lover turned sour.

Urged on by the media, politicians jumped in too. The cricket board considered pay cuts. All for a few games lost, as if disappointment and failure were unacceptable. Had they believed that throwing money at the team would paper over a shortcoming against bouncers in the first place? My understanding is that players were highly paid because they brought in sponsors and significant advertising money. Because the arrangement was percentage-based, if the advertisers left, cricketers would find themselves with less money. So in a way their pay is already performance-based.

What people who call for heads forget in that the Indian team is a result of several processes. If you grow up playing spinners on flat pitches, that's your area of expertise. If individual centers decided to prepare faster pitches South Africa might not appear as daunting. But this particular love is blind to history, recalling only its faults, and everything about it suggesting despair. If it were a woman, we'd be advising Indian cricket to pack its bags and leave its belligerent lover before the mental strain of satisfying a savage started to show.

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