Cricket as mood-setter
Loss to Pakistan in Champions Trophy isn’t a national debacle. Look at wins in other sports
Cricket has become a national mood-setter for both India and Pakistan, especially when the two play against each other. After the Pakistani team lost to India in the initial stages of the just concluded Champions Trophy, it seemed like the former had conceded a military contest in the battlefield. A similar sense of gloom has pervaded here after Pakistan roundly outplayed India in the final of the tournament. All of this has to do largely with the hostile relationship the two countries share. And yet, should victory or defeat in cricket become a metaphor for dominance of one over the other? Is cricket not just a game which is to be won or lost, with no discredit to the losing team, at least not to the extent that it is seen as some sort of a great betrayal of nationhood or nationalism? Surely, neither the Pakistani nor the Indian players, when they face each other on the pitch, view it as such. Instead they are tuned in to the task at hand — which is to play well and win. Public pressure and perception on both sides, unfortunately, seek to determine that such is not the mindset; and that the cricketers are viewed as symbols of national pride and ought to be condemned if they let their country down. When this becomes the dominating, nay, domineering narrative, all sense of balance is lost. Of course, an India-Pakistan cricket match has an unmatchable importance for both nations — particularly because a contest between them has been rare of late, and rarer in the final of a tournament. To the extent that it enlivens competition, a sense of jingoism on either side is not just inevitable but also welcome. But limits cannot be crossed, and certainly not to a level that the result obliterates all other achievements in the sports arena. Nothing much can be done about the domination of cricket on the psyche of either the Indians or the Pakistanis. Both sides are good at the game and are among the best in the world. Let that remain, but exploits in other fields can surely be fairly recognised and dealt with equal euphoria.
In the case at hand, India, almost to the last man, has been in a state of depression, rage and frustration over the humiliating loss to the Pakistanis at the Oval on Sunday. True, Virat Kohli's men ought to have at least given a fight. Had the match been evenly contested and the Indian side had lost, the dismay and outrage would have been less felt. But we need to move on, and exult in the victory of the Indian hockey team over Pakistan on the very same Sunday, when it thrashed the Pakistanis 7-1. Let's not forget the days when an India-Pakistan hockey match was much the same battle of prestige between the two countries, as cricket is today. Unfortunately, many here now see the hockey triumph as small consolation after the Champions Trophy disaster. They are even less enthusiastic about Indian, K Srikanth's stupendous triumph at the Indonesia Super Series tournament, again that same Sunday. The badminton player took the crown after beating a clutch of top-ranked players, including the world number one, along the way. It is an achievement that deserves the centre-stage. Let cricket be the national obsession, but there's more to sport than cricket.
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