On Sunday, tomorrow, one of the biggest events in contemporary India will come to an end after more than a month of being on the wheels. This is the Cricket World Cup 2023 to which India has played host for the first time (previous editions were co-hosted with our South Asian neighbours).
The befitting finale to the CWC23 would be for India’s captain Rohit Sharma and his team to lay their hands on the trophy. However, if India loses, there’s no saying about the sentiment in the country, for several reasons. The Indian team, now on an unbelievable winning spree with many players displaying jaw-dropping skills, may still be the ideal sportsmen on the field, congratulating their opponents and then weeping in the dressing room. But Indians, specifically cricket fans and followers, may not show as much sportsmanship or be large-hearted enough to celebrate the Aussies. Most Indian cricket fans are usually sore losers; cricket followers, who love the game and the team with equanimity, are a few shades more sanguine. In the past few weeks, in stadiums around the country where matches were played and outside venues too, many fans have already demonstrated their obnoxious partisanship and behaviour that should embarrass us as host nation. Players, especially Pakistan’s team, have been booed or sent off the ground with that chant “Jai Shri Ram” (JSR); good shots by an opposing team in a match involving Indian were met with stone-cold silence rather than cheers; and there have been frequent references by the DJs – yes DJ in a Cricket World Cup – to the country’s greatness outside the cricketing realm making it look like a scaled-up version of the IPL.
The brilliance and top-class skill shown by India’s best on the field should have been the only story to remember about the CWC23 but it cannot be because this other, external story, about how India’s performances have been received and how the tournament itself has been hosted demands our attention too. The fans have been high-spirited and supportive of the team because it has been winning with such superb performances all along; they chase the team’s success and bask in its glory, they want a piece of the triumph to own it and exploit it in every which way they can. They are hardly fans of the game or the side who will stick by the team when the wins are not coming. Remember how today’s hero Virat Kohli and his actor-wife Anushka Sharma were trolled and abused when the team lost in the 2015 edition?
If fair-weather fans are an embarrassment, then the game’s richest and most powerful body, the BCCI, has hardly covered itself with glory. Right from the organisation of matches to drawing up the weeks-long calendar and coordinating with state associations to prepare the stadiums, the BCCI has been found sorely wanting, as a number of commentators and former cricketers have pointed out. There was chaos and delays by the host organisation which had all the time in the world to prepare for the tournament. Worse, and this lies at the heart of it all, much of BCCI’s approach to the CWC23 has been blatantly political given that its head Jay Shah is the union home minister's son. From scheduling an India match to time with Diwali celebrations and inserting India’s win clips into songs at every possible chance, to organising the final at the Narendra Modi stadium in Ahmedabad, to be played in the presence of Prime Minister Modi among others, the BCCI has shown how not to conflate an international tournament with national politics – because the tournament ends up looking like a political campaign plank for the ruling party.
Prestigious tournaments should not be beholden to narrow politics, though this has happened including in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and Qatar’s FIFA 2022 World Cup. This edition of the Cricket World Cup, as some say, has been less about the world and more about India chest-thumping itself. The nadir will be if there are “Modi Modi” or JSR or pro-BJP chants in the Modi stadium on Sunday.