Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni (R) wear camouflage army caps ahead of the third one-day international (ODI) cricket match between India and Australia at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association International Cricket Stadium in Ranchi on March 8, 2019, as the Indian cricket team wore the caps as a gesture towards the Indian Armed Forces following tensions with Pakistan in recent weeks in the wake of a suicide attack on a convoy in Kashmir. (Photo by DIBYANGSHU SARKAR / AFP) / ----IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE-----
Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni (R) wear camouflage army caps ahead of the third one-day international (ODI) cricket match between India and Australia at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association International Cricket Stadium in Ranchi on March 8, 2019, as the Indian cricket team wore the caps as a gesture towards the Indian Armed Forces following tensions with Pakistan in recent weeks in the wake of a suicide attack on a convoy in Kashmir. (Photo by DIBYANGSHU SARKAR / AFP) / ----IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE-----

It so happens our national self-esteem hangs by a slender thread called cricket. So, even as most of us were wallowing in self-pity at being routed by underdogs New Zealand, only a few newspapers gave Dutee Chand, who had become the first Indian to win a gold medal at the Summer Universaide in Napoli, Italy, her due.

It was no mean achievement. Dutee is the first Indian woman track and field athlete to clinch a gold medal in a 100m race. This should be the stuff of sporting folklore but such is our preference for the men in blue flannels that athletics – even a world class performance — takes the back seat.

Few broke into a song or danced in the street when the female sprinter crossed a national hump but so overwhelming was the loss against New Zealand that two Indians died of shock, one in Bihar and the other in West Bengal. To add to the angst was the realisation that Dhoni had brought the elusive victory well within our grasp – at least, theoretically.

So, India lost hope and the match at the same time. Well, as is customary, the sun rose the next day and the world carried on with its mundane chores. But we as a nation continued to brood and do a wicket by wicket analysis — there were as many reasons for India’s loss as many mouths there were.

Rohit Sharma had made a profound statement when he said that India “failed to deliver as a team, when it mattered.” This was the most plausible reason. Yet some fans were hell-bent on criticising the players at the top of the heap; others flogged the vulnerable middle order. Absurdities were put forth: for some it was critical that the team did not get enough bananas to eat; others went off the tangent and insisted that it all has to do with marital bliss and the better halves of the players must accompany them on the World Cup tour.

Well, the team and the players are the best people to tell us what went wrong. Also, they are the most distraught ones. Ravindra Jadeja’s wife said he was “inconsolable” after the loss. Most felt Dhoni should have come in early and given the score some momentum. His batting position baffled Tendulkar and Ganguly, too. Ravi Shastri, of course, belongs to the school that feels the best should be kept for the last, more so in view of Mahi’s great reputation as a finisher. Everyone expects him to spearhead the chase and score the winning six.

Many records broke even as an equal number of controversies mushroomed. Out of the blue, Yograj Singh, father of cricketer Yuvraj Singh, raked up the hoary past – the ‘dropping’ of his son as well as Gambhir and Sehwag, all orchestrated by the scheming Dhoni. He also blames Dhoni for losing both the 2015 and the 2019 semi-finals. Even in the league match against England, we are told, Dhoni’s innings was a crawl, with the nefarious intent of keeping out Pakistan. No wonder, Pakistan minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhary tweeted that Dhoni “deserved the disgraceful exit”.

There are rumours of Dhoni retiring after the World Cup, though Virat Kohli has said the former has mentioned no such thing to him. What is on Dhoni’s mind, no one can predict. Invariably, after every loss in the World Cup, there is a revamp with the captain’s job itself in the pillory. One poll says 49% of the cricket fans do not want Rohit Sharma to be the captain, just yet. The Cricket Advisory Committee comprising Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman had chosen Ravi Shastri as the head coach after Kohli had differences with Anil Kumble two years ago. His job too could be on line.

Acting Coach Sanjay Bangar, Bowling Coach Bharat Arun and Fielding Coach R Sridhar could be on the merry-go-round that would now be allowed to swirl and abruptly stop at a silly point. In a way, we are such sentimental fools. We belong to a breed which, if its digs into nails into something, will cling on to it forever. We sleep, eat and live cricket; and will even kill for it. The social media is full of memes of Anushka Sharma’s ‘Sui Dhaga,’ mocking the Men in Blue.

Indian fans who had bought 41% of the tickets for Lord’s final, were urged by New Zealand all-rounder Jimmy Neesham to resell them on the official platform and give all genuine cricket fans a chance to watch the finale. It would have been a nice sight if stranded-in-London Indian players had been present at Lords and rooted for New Zealanders. The Uncle Scrooge of cricket — the BCCI — was so smug that they had booked return tickets for the team only after the finals. I am sure they had reserved a seat for the trophy as well. There was a philosophical comment from the stoic Shoaib Akhtar which seemed to sum it all up: He said that India were so close, and yet so far!

-Pragya Jain

The writer is an educationist. Views are personal.

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