By Rohit Naimpally (Guest Contributor, i3j3cricket)
The immediate aftermath of Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s World Cup-winning six is a blur to me. I have watched the highlights from that night umpteen times over the past few months, but the moment itself? That is a blur; as soon as MS Dhoni hit the shot, all I remember is a sudden release. And tears. My next memory is of Yuvraj Singh crying into Sachin Tendulkar’s shoulder.
It is impossible to describe the intensity of those World Cup winning moments, and in many ways it is unnecessary. Those that could comprehend would not need any explanation; those that could not, would never be able to. A lot of that intensity was owed to the compression of memory, an idea that requires going beyond the effervescence of victory.
By way of explanation, I need to return us to another World Cup final eight years ago, to the eve of my economics board exam. That team did not carry with it the air of destiny that the 2011 outfit would, but this did not preclude hope and desire on our part. Every Indian fan will be familiar with what followed; memories of Zaheer getting tonked all over the park stayed with me for a long time. No roller-coaster could ever make my stomach sink more than it did when Sachin miscued that pull of Glenn McGrath.
Fast forward to 2011 at The Motera: a much cannier Zaheer Khan, almost unrecognizable as the bowler from that final eight years ago, totally bamboozles Michael Hussey. Sachin pulls a 91 mph ball from Mitchell Johnson somewhere towards cow corner on his way to a neat half-century. I do not like to talk in binaries, but the symmetry of the Motera encounter with the Wanderers one was undeniable. Watching this team expiate the sins of 2003 was cathartic; a catharsis that would have been impossible had it not been for the 2003 trauma. This was the compression of memory, images both good and bad all feeding into each other and enabling a nationwide collective effervescence of historic proportions.
It is necessary to look beyond the moment of victory to see the crucial role played by defeat in our experience of victory. Wanderers 2003 and Motera 2011. Eden Gardens 1996 and Wankhede 2011. Victory cannot mean as much without defeat, for highs are most accurately measured against the lows.
The value of troughs in one’s cricketing experience goes even beyond the heightened enjoyment of subsequent peaks. Sticking with a team through the tough times lends greater weight to the very meaning of fandom. It signifies a commitment to an ideal, a commitment to a cause. It is cliché to say that the true fan sticks with his team through thick and thin; while laudable, this is a normative statement that I am not concerned with here.
My questions are: What does it even mean to be a fan only when one’s team is winning? How does one then distinguish support for a team from support of simple victory, no matter the vehicle? Does one support the pursuit of excellence as an abstract ideal, or does one root that support in a specific context?
It has been wonderful to chart Zaheer Khan’s rise to the status of premier fast bowler, from his early excellence, to the falling-off and injuries through the Worcestershire stint and the ascension starting with the England tour of 2007. So much of that experience has been about seeing Zaheer’s evolution and growth. About the journey, not just the destination. Cricket has always been a sport about flows, not static moments. Do not let the apparent singularity of victory fool you into omitting the process that led up to it. As great as that picture of Brett Lee and Andrew Flintoff at Edgbaston in 2005 was, it would be empty without the context of the events that preceded it. The tough times lend us context, they lend us starting points.
I have been part of a privileged Indian generation: the majority of my cricketing memories were forged over the last decade, when the Indian team fully emerged from an age of diminished expectations. We have gone from hoping that Ganguly’s men could be contenders to criticising Dhoni’s backups for not seizing greatness. We react in the way we do because the process thus far has been largely a pleasant one. It may sound counter-intuitive, but this England tour has gone towards rounding out our experiences as fans. I often think of cricket as a wonderful metaphor for life, in all its dimensions (that is a post for another day). From that perspective, the tribulations of this tour have merely added to the wealth of experiences that I can draw on as an Indian cricket fan. Support this team, draw on your stock of wonderful memories associated with this crew (see the symmetry of victory and defeat again?) and just go with the turbulent flow that is the life of the cricket fan.
The BCCI and the team are not the only parties that can stand to take lessons away from this tour.