Where Did All the Cricket Fans Go?
The 2007 World Cup is a fun tournament for sure. It's cricket's premier championship festival. Every team prepares for it for years. Every player dreams of playing in it. And everyone tries their damnedest to put on their best performance. For a fan, it's a chance to see the best in the world all on one stage playing each other. And if you are watching it on satellite, you have to pay only once to watch every side in the world of some consequence.
Yet everywhere I go and try to discuss the latest happenings in the World Cup, I'm met with a roll of the eyes, a sarcastic chuckle or a shrug of the shoulders from my friends. You hear them tell you why they don't care about the Cup anymore.
"I've lost all interest in it, yaar. (looks into chai morosely)"
"I just don't feel like following it anymore. (rage stamped all over face)"
"So who played who today again? (looks away)"
There were scenes after India's losses which fans would like to forget: people in the streets burning effigies of cricketers (don't these people have work to do?), a mob with madness in its eyes standing over the demolished construction site of Dhoni's new home, analyses of shame and personal loss blanketing the media. Pictures still circulate of Dravid, Tendulkar and Sehwag watching India go down to Sri Lanka from the balcony. They all look positively shell shocked - like they were watching a global disaster unfolding.
Whatever happened to enjoying the game? Why doesn't anyone get excited when Clarke or Sangakarra stride in to bat? How about appreciating the tremendous bowling of Powell and Muralidharan? How about observing the gradual order of alignment in the Australian team after a major upheaval? Is anyone interested in the spades of New Zealand who always come up aces when it matters?
Where did all the fans of cricket go?
As Indians we've always enjoyed sports without getting tied up in nationalism. We didn't have a choice really. If we didn't find joy in the Borgs, McEnroes, Navratilovas and later Sampras', Federers, and Williams' we'd never be able to watch any tennis. The same goes with Track and Field. Or Formula-1 racing. In fact, we do this so well that we're constantly accusing others of being closed off to the world - unaware of anyone but their own heroes.
Sure, as a die-hard fan, disappointment overwhelms you when your team loses. You hang your head and down another shot of Tanqueray. You might even show up glum-faced the next day at work. But it's a game. It's about entertainment, not about sticking it to another team. And there is so much fun to still be had in the World Cup.
In the aftermath of the early exit of India in the World Cup, this is an example of Indian fans behaving insularly. Someone once said to me "Indian cricket doesn't deserve fans like us". I couldn't agree more.
But I'd argue that cricket doesn't deserve fans like those who operate as if Team India and cricket are one and the same.