Defeat and the Cricketing Experience

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.

— @noompa

8 responses to “Defeat and the Cricketing Experience

  1. Pingback: Defeat and the Cricketing Experience « Chasing Fat Tails

  2. It is easier to reminisce bad times when the going is good, but the vice-versa is one mighty tough job. This tour has been such a rude surprise to the average fan that it would be unfair to blame them if there is an accelerated loss of faith. That is a part of our characteristic, easy come, easy go. But I am sure all will be richer for the experience and the whole negativity will make future successes that much more enjoyable.

    Here is a satirical article I have written on Munaf. Read for pleasure 🙂

  3. Rohit,

    I do not mind the whitewash. But I do not like the attitude. Zaheer Khan reporting the test series -not physically fit – that is not acceptable.

    Sehwag wanted to play for IPL for $$ and postponed the surgery and was not fit or ready for the England series. The way he got out – King pair – was embarrassing.

    Harbhajan is clearly past his prime (as a bowler). Now he claims he is a batsman (like switching to Harikatha !) . Amit Mishra keeps bowling half-trackers every over.

    There was a mention that RP Singh was vacationing somewhere and he was selected as a urgent replacement. There were other bowlers.

    Clearly, disappointed with Sachin and he did not live to his expectations – when the game was on the line.

    Dhoni has been exceptional – even though he failed in the test series, his fighting spirit should be commended.

  4. @gnbmdr Sehwag’s decision to play the IPL rather than to advance surgery is a complicated one. We forget that our athletes need to make a living after all and as Dileep Premachandran tells us (, Indian cricketers are significantly underpaid when compared to their Aussie/English counterparts.

    I think it is unfair to blame RP Singh too much for showing up unfit: he is not a centrally contracted cricketer and was given no indication via selection for previous tours that he was even in contention for a spot in this series (as evinced by the fact that he was on a beach in Florida).

    Tendulkar has performed on so many occasions for the team that I am willing to grant him the odd poor series. He looked like he was set for a big knock on a couple of occasions, but sometimes the luck does not fall your way. Sometimes, your first misjudgment proves to be your last one- this happened more often than not for Tendulkar.

    On the whole, I think too much is being made out of player attitudes. We tend to read too much intent when there is nothing. People made much of VVS Laxman keeping his hands in his pockets, when the simple fact of the matter could simply have been that he was cold. Ditto for Suresh Raina: people fault him against the short-ball, but it is undeniable that he has been working hard on the problem. We are too quick to conflate intent with execution, something that I plan to write a post on in the near future.

    Appreciate the feedback.

  5. Most present day Indian cricketers are millionaires. I do not understand the underpaid part.

    I fully agree/support with Sehwag’s desire to play for IPL, and he should clearly indicate that he is not available to play England series. When comparisons to Viv Richards or Greenidge are made, there are expectations; not scoring against only the minnows.

    Zaheer’s fitness was almost ridiculous. This was not the first time he has pulled this stunt.

    I agree every one has a bad series. But this was billed as the contest of the titans for the 1- ranking; the best bowling, swinging conditions … and I was hoping Sachin would get his 100th century. – sort of like Sunil Gavasakar’s century against John Snow …

    RP Singh’s first ball in the oval test was a wide; which went to second slip – sort of like Steve Harmison and it was clear that India was in trouble. if it is not RP’s fault, then the selectors need to be held accountable.

    Huge fan of VVS, but totally disappointed with his fielding in this series. He does not even have the desire to run for the ball.

  6. I don’t know what all the fuss about BCCI not allowing Dhoni and his men to attend ICC awards function. ICC couldn’t arrange SRK, Shilpa Shetty, PRETTY Zienta, a few record dancers from the tents in Teynampet and a few top less and top heavy belles from South Africa to honour and grace the occasion. Hoefully, ICC appoints Lalit Modi to organise the next function—or even better present the awards for 2012 at the end of the presentation ceremony of IPL 2012 finals in Mumbai—but then the MC Ravi “Three Crores’ Shastri would demand two fees!!

  7. Time has come for a requiem. The apostles(SRT, RD, VVS) will be retiring any time. The team will be thrown into extreme turbulence. May be, this English tour is an early warning bell for the necessary actions. Here is an opinion…do share your takes on it.

  8. The defeat in English tour showed us that without the biggies Indian team does not have potential, and it would not be longer before they retire, its high time selectors start looking for replacements, and find some really great talents.

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