March 19, 2007

It’s either this or nothing

ESPNcricinfo staff
Oh, the agony of that game against Bangladesh

Oh, the agony of that game against Bangladesh. It’s now the day after the day after and I am still slapping my forehead and saying, ‘Oh dear, oh dear, just did we manage to get beaten?’

And the next game against Bermuda is merely hours away. I shudder at the thought.

The fact of the loss against Bangladesh isn’t the worst thing. Watching the pasting India got was a vile experience but even that isn’t the worst thing. The worst thing is this: We’ll all stay up and watch the game against Bermuda tonight. We shan’t be able to bring ourselves to turn away.

The pact between a fan and his team is sacrosanct. It cannot be broken. It is not like the colas or the cars or the credit cards the players endorse. Don’t like it? Sell it off. Flush it down the toilet. Get something better.

All through Sunday, protests erupted all over India. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s new house, still being built, was attacked. Effigies were burnt. Sound bites on TV and chat rooms on the web were incandescent with anger.

It was the same in 2003 after India had squeezed through against the Netherlands in the opening game and got slaughtered by Australia in the next one. It is the same every time.

Advertisers are getting worried. The reported on Monday that “40 per cent of the Rs 12,000 crore (estimated by senior officials across firms like Samsung, LG and Coca-Cola) that rides on the Men in Blue can get wiped out if they make an early exit. That is about Rs 5,000 crore at stake.”

The fans’ anger with failure is genuine. (I can’t condone the ways in which it is expressed but I don’t for a moment doubt its genuineness.) As is their passion for the game and the hunger for success at it. But however disappointed we are, we simply cannot turn away when our players walk out on to the field. If we could, that Rs 12,000 crore would not have been at stake in the first place. The fact that it is – and will continue to be even if India go out before the next stage of the World Cup – suggests that there are millions out there like me: dejected, dispirited but waiting to reach for the remote before the first ball is bowled tonight. Sometimes, it feels like a brotherhood of misery.

Every fan realizes this: feeling miserable is part of the deal. But riding the misery and sticking with it the deal. You can’t support another team. You can’t suddenly become just as passionate about another sport.

It’s only this or nothing. And nothing is so much worse.

Soumya Bhattacharya is the editor of Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He is the author of two volumes of cricketing memoirs - You Must Like Cricket? and All That You Can't Leave Behind - and a novel, If I Could Tell You