Most of us live vicariously. We draw pleasure and pain, happiness and despair from acts not performed by us. As a collective, the Indian cricket team represents the aspirations of sporting excellence of millions who may have never picked up a bat or touched a ball in their lives. They are just us and when they perform well, it instills pride in our collective ability to win against other countries. We see in their victory our victory. We see in their defeat our failure.
The devastated Indian fans spread across the globe at India’s shock World Cup exit is an example of lives lived vicariously. Why it is so and what makes this vicariousness so ingrained in the human mind is not the subject of this column. This is a “collective unconscious” which may have crept into the sub-conscious ever since humans were born or it may be the construct of those who created the modern state that sustains its power in the pride people take in their national identities. Whatever the reasons, it is a fact of life today that we cannot escape.
The reactions to India’s “catastrophic” defeat at Manchester are varied, ranging from shock, disbelief, even sympathy with the team, to anger and outrage. These reactions are not new or unusual. One has seen and experienced this before and it will keep repeating itself in the future as well. This is not a one-generation phenomenon as the past, present and the future have to merge for this vicariousness to have a lasting life.
This time around the pain is greater because the Indian team was without doubt among the favourites, more than it may have been at any time in their cricketing history in a World Cup. In the build-up to the tournament, coach, Ravi Shastri, himself had made tall claims about his team’s all-round strength and at one point in time had even said this is the best Indian team ever.
In Virat Kohli, the world’s best batsman at the moment and who could end up being one in cricket’s entire history, was one important factor to make us all believe, yes we can do it. Its bowling strength was extraordinary with Jasprit Bumrah’s gravity-defying bowling balance, variety and razor-sharp yorkers lending an edge to the team that make a difference between victory and defeat. And then, apart from Rohit Sharma’s glutinous appetite for runs, we had Dhoni, shoring up the rear. The ageless wonder, who could chase any amount of runs with dogged calmness that ordinary mortals can’t even imagine.
It all fell apart, as Kohli was to say after the match, in a mere 45 minutes. A lifetime’s work was dismantled in minutes. The New Zealand pacers sliced the top with the ease a master surgeon uses his scalp. The middle may have resisted but finally, the bottom gave in. For a while there was hope. Jadeja, the lone warrior, with his audacious switches and the tranquil presence of Dhoni had rejuvenated Indian hopes. One magic in the field from Martin Guptill and it was all over. India were out and done; instead of Lord’s, they were now heading home.
There was silence at the ground, in the streets of India and in homes. Television channels were all of a sudden switched off. The burden of sharing the emotion of defeat with its team was an unbearable thought.
There will be a million opinions on why we lost and what went wrong. Dhoni’s batting order, for one, will be endlessly debated. So would be the thought that the team had not prepared and invested enough in grooming the right people for the middle and lower middle order batting slot. It will go on and on but a life lived vicariously may not be able to feel the real pain of those who actually played and lost.