The last couple of days leading to the Champions Trophy final had turned into a side game of hysteria, fans virtually chest-thumping in union as they gave a soppy Father's Day a run for its money by proclaiming how big daddy India would thump beta Pakistan in the final. India had won the tournament long before Sunday if social media were to be believed.
Arrey, this is Pakistan, mavericks of world cricket, masters at tossing away a winning game, periodic cheaters but mostly just giving us our mauka laughs: we have this one tightly in the glove like a Dhoni catch, we gloated, ignoring even a novice cricketing fan's basic knowledge, Pakistan's strength and weakness are the same- its unpredictability. A cricket writer summed up the positives for Pakistan in a one-liner after its loss to India in the league stage: "Pakistan turned up on time and all their players remembered to wear green." It was funny then, but who had the last laugh? The innuendos targeting Fakhar were like his nick off Bumrah's no-ball, all desperation.
Pakistan's "Dawn" was too kind, calling it a 'thrilling' final: a match is exciting when there is a contest; at the Oval, it was all one-sided. Maybe it was just a bad day at work for the Indian cricket team, or perhaps that conviction which often rightly or wrongly becomes an over-confident swagger amongst even our rookie cricketers needed a timely reminder that earth was calling.
Did I feel bad that India lost? Not really. Something has changed. It's very unlike the old days when we all walked around with faces longer than a Chris Gayle six, taking time to recover after a defeat to Pakistan. Maybe because we don't play each other often, the rivalry is softening and instead playing against Australia is what gets our heckles up. Is it bad for cricket? Probably not, we will still wind ourselves up over a match, but maybe will no longer let it consume us.
The most endearing moment between the two nations at the Champion Trophy was MS Dhoni holding Pakistani captain Sarfaraz's son. Perhaps some of us, like the cricketers, have understood that political rhetoric aside this is just a game. Virat Kohli was generous with his praise of Pakistan after the final, just as Afridi was after the Indian captain a few months ago gifted him a farewell jersey.
But one thing Kohli and company would have learnt yesterday is that even cricket fans are as fickle as politicians heading sports federations. It was the day we re-discovered, despite our best attempts otherwise, that hockey was still our national sport. If you haven't yet been forwarded caricatures of cricket bats being chiselled into hockey sticks, then you really are not popular! But a little knowledge is a dangerous sport - many are perhaps still struggling to figure out how a Harmanpreet Singh or a Talwinder Singh have put 'Yuvi Paaji' in the shade.
Our hockey team are our unsung heroes, sadly remaining in the shadows of cricketers as the other men in blue. Their 7-1 victory margin brought back memories of the 1982 Asian Games and the fiasco when India was controversially beaten by Pakistan by an identical margin. It is not easy fighting for past glory, especially when you see a band of cricketers standing where you were once, the undisputed world champions. For the next few days, there may be a spike in people showing their kids "Chak De India" as their misguided tribute to our victory, but sadly our fascination with hockey is like a child with a new toy - it will lose its charm the moment we win our next cricket match.
But billions of screaming fans will never be able to do what one man has achieved quietly. If there is a person bigger than his sport, bigger than what Sachin Tendulkar was to cricket, then it is Pulella Gopichand. They say it takes a village, but in a cricket-obsessed country, he became the village, at one point even mortgaging his own house to train upcoming badminton players. Kidambi Srikanth, yet another protege from his academy, is now the world number 2 after winning the big-ticket Indonesian Super Series. Indian men are now at par with Saina and Sindhu, and the shuttlers have exploded onto the world scene.
Once in a while, cricket needs to lose. It gives our other champions their day in the sun, instead of being buried somewhere on the last page. Someday, hopefully, we will give them the respect they deserve and not just use them to relieve some misplaced patriotic emotions. As non-cricketing champions, they have already paid their dues.
(Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava worked with NDTV for more than a decade and now writes on a variety of topics for several news organisations.)
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