Samir Chopra May 19, 2010

Brawlgate and the need for moderation

What is consistent about Indian teams is that they are not very consistent

Thanks to the over-enthusiastic hyping of Indian cricket, Indian fans seem to have confused economic power with cricketing power © Getty Images

Brawlgate is singularly depressing in reminding me of just how ugly the flip-side of Indian fanhood can be. Unrealistic expectations and exaggerated over-reaction, are, as many brighter lights than me constantly point out, the hallmark of this mode of existence. And as in any dysfunctional relationship (from a not-so-great-distance, this is what it appears to be) things won't change till both parties do. The players "simply" need to play better. The task for the fans is much harder.

What precisely is it that creates such over-wrought expectations? The Indian team has never approached the consistency of champion teams. The local maxima of a good performance in one tournament or Test series is very quickly succeeded by the trough of a catastrophically bad performance. What is consistent about Indian teams is that they are not very consistent. Perhaps this roller-coaster induces the exaggerated reactions? But why doesn't it induce the calm of the long-distance traveller?

The answers for that question would take too long to detail in this space. But somewhere along the line, thanks to the over-enthusiastic hyping of Indian cricket (a hyping whose din only seems to have grown in recent years), Indian fans have perhaps confused economic power with cricketing power. And not only that, we seem to have confused the highlight reel, set to music, with the real-time pace of an actual cricket game. What else would make Indian fans forget that our bowlers are always on the mend, or on the sidelines, that our batsmen had not provided any evidence since the World Twenty20 of their improvement against the short ball, that our fielders still lack nous and verve?

That is, when you know your team has significant weaknesses in batting, bowling and fielding (did I leave anything out?), why demand so much? Why not, instead, settle for the pleasure of an unexpectedly good performance if it does happen to come along? I'm pretty sure there will be some later this year.

The purpose of therapy, Freud reminded us, was to get from misery to common unhappiness. Indian fans, like neurotics the world over, would make themselves, and possibly others, less miserable, if they could adjust the settings on their expectation meters and come to grips with the reality principle in their domain of interest.

Which is, in short: you win games consistently if you play the game at a consistently high level. And if we would cast our eyes about, we would notice scant evidence for this proposition when it comes to Indian cricket. (There are Test-playing countries that we have still not beaten in an away series).

My purpose in this post isn't to denigrate the Indian team. They have a pretty rock-solid claim on my loyalties. But I have to remind myself that we don't have the domestic infrastructure of champion teams, that our board is run by non-cricketers, and that our young cricketers are rewarded excessively for too little, too early. In these circumstances, talent-spotting and nurturing is hard, selection policies are Kafkaesque at best, and the motivation of all but the most disciplined is likely to flag. Combine all of this with the undoubted presence of cricketing talent and we have the recipe for inconsistent, sporadically delightful, performances.

Searching for the golden mean is always a good idea. But judging by the evidence from BrawlGate, many Indian fans simply couldn't be bothered to join in this particular quest for moderation.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here