The fireworks over Delhi – and I guess elsewhere in India – lasted an hour and more on Wednesday night after India beat Pakistan by 29 runs in Mohali in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 semifinal. As I drove back home after completing a show on All India Radio, it seemed that flag-waving cricket fans, young and old, were driving to India Gate and Connaught Place, showcasing an outpouring of emotion.
With the final against Sri Lanka just two days away, the team itself may have quickly shifted its focus to calming its nerves and preparing for that massive game against Sri Lanka. But it appeared as if all India, unconcerned yet about the preparations for the final, was in a celebratory mood.
Each of us lost no time in picking our favourite freeze frames from the match. And those who had questioned skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s wisdom in choosing left-arm paceman Ashish Nehra over spin bowler R Ashwin quickly overcome such thoughts and joined the bandwagon of praise for his assured captaincy.
There was one frame that etched itself on my mind and I have to thank Shahid Afridi and Zaheer Khan – and their smiles – for that. Afridi chipped Zaheer Khan to mid-wicket and the ball dropped just short of the fielder there and managed just a single. As Afridi complete the run, he must have exchanged notes with Zaheer and they both broke into a smile. It was a lovely sight.
Of course, there were as many such scenes during the game – be it Harbhajan Singh exulting after bowling Umar Akmal or Sachin Tendulkar after taking a catch to dismiss Wahab Riaz or Mahendra Singh Dhoni uncharacteristically rushing to congratulate Harbhajan Singh on his claiming a wicket or Munaf Patel being hugged by Suresh Raina and Virender Sehwag.
Come to think of it, we loved the amazing spirit with which the teams played the match. Despite the unprecedented hype and hoopla that preceded the game, there was not a hint of acrimony on the field that some expected in the high-voltage clash. This was highlighted when Ashish Nehra did not claim a catch after fling himself forward at deep mid-wicket.
Our hearts also reached out when Afridi showed grace at the post-match presentations and poignantly when he unhesitatingly said “I want to say sorry to the people of Pakistan.” He knew India was the superior team and he knew that his team had to do something out of the ordinary to beat India in Mohali – and the closest that it went to that was Wahab Riaz’s incisive bowling.
Quite inevitably, as sonn as the cricket ball found safety in Virat Kohli’s hands to signal the completion of the match, India erupted in joy. The ultra-rich and the poor were all bound by a common thread that delighfully spelt victory. A diverse nation was united by emotions like relief and satisfaction, delight and, above all, national pride.
Cell phones across the country were buzzing, with calls and text messages dominaing the air waves; News TV channels forgot how they had raised questions about this team’s ability when it tied with England and lost to South Africa and tirelessy talking through the night about India’s victory over Pakistan and its after-effects. FM stations joined the festivities, too.
Thursday’s newspapers were expectedly euphoric, with cricket and ‘cricket diplomacy’ taking up most of the frontpage space. “After this… the Cup’s a Bonus” said one headline, reflecting the thoughts of most fans. A dispassionate observer may be forgiven if he thought that India had already won the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, except of course for some exceptional reminders.
Yet, I would like you to pause for a moment and think: Does it need only a victory on the field of sport for India to feel proud of itself? Should we not seek such success in many other walks of life? Should we depend on cricket alone – and less frequently, other sport – to raise the morale of our nation and our self-esteem? Should we invest all our emotions in cricket?
I remember speaking with a wonderful ad-man Piyush Pandey some weeks ago and he pointed out that we are not competing so visibly against anyone in other areas and hence cricket causes such mass sentiments. Our film stars are not up against their contemporaries from Hollywood. And when composer AR Rahman wins an Oscar or two, we do break out in some celebrations.
To be sure, cricket has fuelled an aggression in India but we desperately need such success in other streams of life too.The sooner our nation finds them the better it will be for us as we ride the bullish emotion and get ready to take on the world. Until that happens, we have much to thank the Indian cricket team for.
To me, Wednesday night was not just about the emotional outpouring of a cricket-crazy nation. It was about this wonderful country’s eagerness to be bound as one; it is about its diverse peoples collective desire to encourage success. The question is: who or what else is ready to capture the imagination of vast majority of the 1.2 billion people and make their hearts swell with pride.
(This piece has been written for Hindi newspaper Prabhat Khabar)