Diplomacy makes nations stronger but sportsmanship makes nations better. In the morning after mourning the darkest night in India’s recent sporting calendar, the defeat in the finals of the World Cup, which India long believed Rohit Sharma’s team had won, there was one question that some true Indians asked: “Were we sporting hosts?”
The finals at Ahmedabad were therefore supposed to be a picnic and a party with song, dance and fireworks till the formality of the winning wicket or run was completed, and for the party to continue for days and weeks. This was the script which the A-listers of Bollywood loved and they turned up in attendance.
It didn’t really matter to the mandarins who control Indian cricket that a certain Mahendra Singh Dhoni or a Kapil Dev were not there. Kapil Dev confirmed he wasn’t invited. And Dhoni, in trademark Dhoni style said nothing and spent his birthday, on the day of the finals, in a mountain home in Nainital, switching off his TV midway because he couldn’t bear to see the debacle in the offing.
The national mourning that followed was understandable because of the passion brought to the sport of cricket, and the unifying factor that has become in a nation that is looking for unifiers. Rohit Sharma’s team gave India hope and pride. The team gave India a kind of happiness that nothing ever can, to every Indian across the country- the happiness of success and dominance. But at the same time, the players in the team did this with humility and lack of arrogance. In press conferences before and after each game, Rahul Dravid, Rohit Sharma, and others paid respect to the opposition and the need to take one game at a time never taking the opposition for granted.
And yes they rightly shut out the “noise”. But the noise indeed was there.
It is this noise, beyond the team but in some of the stadiums and social media. The fine art of swing seam, guile and spin, the beauty of flawless shot making, of brave intent, of teamwork and grit, was insulted when jingoism was displayed even during the singing of the anthem. When good balls and shots of other teams were not cheered, when words like revenge, and “badla” were heard more than ‘congratulations’ and ‘well played’, by the crowd in blue.
This was pressure of a different kind, this was muscle flexing of a different level. Passion and love for the team aside sport cannot be about not giving space to the “other”, to the opponent who is only a fellow compatriot, never the enemy.
A nation that excels in sports should be an embodiment of sportsmanship.
During the 2015 World Cup co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, visas for travelling fans were granted immediately covering both countries.
So if fans had a visa for any one country, (Australia or New Zealand) travel to the other country was seamless to the second country, during the tournament and sometime before and after it.
Indian fans are given royal treatment in every country- Australia, Sri Lanka, and South Africa. And even Pakistan. They are welcomed, treated, and provided any kind of help including offers to stay with them.
In Australia when a second-string Indian team beat Australia in a historic test series, without Virat Kohli, the team received all-around praise and accolades from Australia, the public the media and the local broadcasters. The respect was unconditional, it was respect for the sport, for the spirit of cricket.
The question that fans of Indian cricket, especially in some towns, more than others, have to ask if, during this World Cup, they have added class, grace and value to the game they claim to love by displaying the spirit of sportsmanship that makes any sport rise above just a game between two teams or individuals.
Australian batsman Travis Head played one of the best knocks in the history of the finals of the World Cup. The grace of sportsmanship would have shone brightly if spectators had given him a standing ovation instead of the deathly silence when he raised his bat waiting for an ovation when he reached his century. The claps of 20-odd Australians could be heard in the pin-drop silence of a crowd of 1.3 lakh people.
Then there were reports that the two umpires Richard Illingworth and Richard Kettleborough were booed when they came up to receive their medals. There was already a narrative being built against Richard Kettleborough to even suggest that he was selected to be one of the on-field umpires to give India a tough time. No the team and the players said nothing. This was a social media tsunami maligning the umpire.
Incidentally, both umpires have won the David Shepherd Trophy, for ICC’s “Umpire of the Year”.
Any sport is best enjoyed when you enjoy and applaud the skills of all teams. The brave cricket displayed by Afghanistan which almost knocked Australia out of the championship, some of the winning moments of Netherlands, one of the best innings ever played, if not the very best, of Glenn Maxwell in the same game vs Afghanistan, the class of Quinton de Kock, the old world charm of David Warner, the exploits of the new kid on the block Rachin Ravindra, each complimented the brilliance of the Indian team and showed us that this was indeed the “world” cup.
And this is why it is called the World Cup. And this is best enjoyed when the cup of joy includes the appreciation of the skill and spirit of players from across the world.
Affection and respect given to guests by citizens of the host country make a country worthy of being an international host. That also gives glory to the sport that fans love and live and die for.
But if there’s any jingoism, muscle flexing and hate, then the deficit of sportsmanship tells a big sad story of a graver deficit than of runs or wickets.