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May 19, 2010

Samir Chopra

Brawlgate and the need for moderation

Samir Chopra

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

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Posted by Thomas on (June 23, 2010, 11:53 GMT)

I don't agree with the comments that India lacks consistency. In test ranking at the top and the one day ranking 2nd and that is the best indicator for the consistency. Most of the teams have same % age of domestic and foreign matches ( may be except Pak). However I do agree that we have to be moderate in our expressions- win/ loss

Posted by waterbuffalo on (June 2, 2010, 10:20 GMT)

As a Pakistani supporter I want to say thwo things, Dhoni is a good captain, and 20/20 is no big deal, He was probably , along with others, burned out by the IPL, the timing was wrong, it should be three or four months, then the WC, not just weeks. The Indian batting lineup, (for Tests) is second only to Australia, no need to panic at all. Test Series matters the most, and India still have a strong Test side. As far as flat pitches go, all the subcontinent teams have flat or dead pitches, and they still do not want to do anything about it. 20/20 is all front foot batting, of course it will affect the technique of batsmen.

Posted by Kasi Chettiar on (May 29, 2010, 13:10 GMT)

The loss against Zimbabwe last week proved the continuing inadequacy of an overhyped, overpaid unfit group of individuals who given their current state of events would be lucky to caress/stroke my 10 year old's gentle medium pace to the boundary (My little one is even more consistent in his length than the friendly, “please hit me “ line offered by Mr Nehra and Co.). Our swashbuckling need to constantly play on our front foot with no regard for the wide range of back foot strokes on offer ,as we seem to have an innate golfer-like desire to keep driving the ball rather than adapt and change our ways according to the pitch conditions, is simply quite worrying. Our flirtation with golf doesn’t end there. Our partying, young men seem to be imitating Tiger Woods in their hedonistic pursuits but in no way similar to the consistency displayed by the man when he returned to rank 4th in the Masters after a long break. They also seem to have an urge to tee off when they need to stay “putt” ( I couldn’t stop myself from using the golf pun. It was out there in the “green”) as evident in their crippling twenty-20 display against Australia in the Super Eights. The batsmen were too eager to have a one night stand with the ball and send it to the boundary every time rather than have a lasting relationship with the ball which would have proved more fruitful in the scoreboard. This is in no way a comparison to golf and cricket but just a light hearted comparison which will show the discrepancy in the determination and will power showed by the two parties involved. Throughout this season all I have seen is 11 bumbling ever changing young men led by their “brimming with their excuses” captain who seems to think that "well, of course" is a valid opening for all sentences (supposedly he is somewhat of a rockstar in India. The fleeting passions of Indian people for their cricketers is quite an elixir). Well, he might do well to take something from the Spiderman quote that with great power comes great responsibility. His wins have been overhyped while the losses have been reasoned for by their collective IPL exhaustion and their inability to do this and that. One of the matters constantly voiced in the This and That section is their inability to face the short ball. Well, if the rest of the world. They would be the wiser to even watch some of their brilliantly gifted colleagues like England playing in consistently underachieving teams like England (though, I am not so sure of that anymore) can pull the cricket ball so valiantly and flawlessly it makes me think is it the insecurity, fear or just plain impotency to give the shivers to a man in blue when an over 80 mph bowler is hurling a short pitched ball towards you. I have always found pulling the short ball one of the simpler strokes and a definitive stroke for even a semi-accomplished batsman and as I am Indian I can definitely say it is not because of our physical limitations. It has either been completely torn off the Cricketing strokes for dummies (Indian version endorsed by the BCCI) or since cricket is being increasingly played for the entertainment junkies rather than for the art of the game as evident in the IPL which had more glitz and glamour than the Oscars but less of its credibility or purpose. This was highlighted by the fact that serial soap addicts have turned their wavering attention spans towards the joys of cricket through the wonderfulness of the IPL and the saleability of Lalit Modi. Hurrah?! I Guess not.

Posted by Babs Rai on (May 22, 2010, 13:40 GMT)

Samir, how dare you right an article about long distance Indian fans when you have no idea what we go through. I have stayed in the same hotel as the team many times and they don't even say good morning.

Posted by pakspin on (May 21, 2010, 17:46 GMT)

It is so typical of Indian cricket to cover their faults by either inviting or visiting a team that is clearly weaker and has no chance of winning against them. The schedule is cleverly conspired by the Indian cricket board to make a fool of the fans. Case in point, after the horrible perfomence in T20 WC, India will play Kenya, where failed players like Yuvraj and Dhoni will make centuries and win the public back. The fans will be happy. The falied players will stay, and the cycle will continue until their outing in the next ICC event. The same strategy was used after India's horrible performance in the last 50 over WC. Wake up people! Don't get distracted by batsman's selfish performance (centuries) on dead tracks againt weaker teams, but gauge your success by how many ICC events these batsmen perform in and win for you. 50 centuries vs minnows on dead tracks cannot win you the WC.

Posted by Abhay Nigam on (May 21, 2010, 17:11 GMT)

Samir Chopra has changed the whole issue. The issue is not the hyped expectations of fans from Indian cricketrs of winning all the time but we certainly expect a decent behaviour from them after the loss. which cricketer of any dignity and self respect will like to visit a pub after such a shameful exit from tournament. even in the pub these cricketrs were drinking and abusing female fans when taunted by them, which lead to brawl.

Posted by Akbar on (May 21, 2010, 11:15 GMT)

I think the people of subcontinent has an exaggerated response to the results of matches their teams win or loses. It will be much better to consider cricket as a game & donot expect exaggerated results from our sides. If we do so the pain of losing will not be that severe. We can not think of losing,which is part of the game.

Posted by David Goodwin on (May 21, 2010, 4:29 GMT)

I think a big part of the issue is that India as an independent country is very new (I am talking since the end of British colonial rule, I am well aware that India has a proud and glorious history pre colonialism).

India seems to be still exploring its identity and sense of self, and there is a deep insecurity about their place at the forefront of the world stage.

For example, the IPL was very much a "look at me" event, parading India's wealth and influence, but it also highlighted many of the things India needs to come to terms with.

So when the Indian team fails I think many fans see it as a reflection on the nation itself, as if sporting success proves that India is a great country.

A similar effect can be seen in the jingoistic and over the top reaction in the comments when an article appears on Cricinfo that is critical of the IPL or an Indian player. The criticism is seen as an attack on india itself.

As India matures as a nation I think we will see more balance.

Posted by Nishanth on (May 20, 2010, 16:43 GMT)

One simple question sir, where were you when india amounced their t20 world cup team? And now accusing indian fans for over reaction is pointless, ipl standards could not even compared to the world class matches then why media people including you kept silence at that time. To be frank i rarely watch ipl because its just like an indian dish which only we could digest. When media made fake heroes out of those matches and paved their way to team why did not anyone said anything. When i see yuvraj on ground i feel pity the way he looks a glance is enough to say if he is fit to play. Anyway a gala event ipl, finished and its like every player literally over its hangover and flew to indies :) and i doubt their commitment for a great game. May be there are too many people thinking alike in our country.

Posted by Ashok Kumar on (May 20, 2010, 16:17 GMT)

One should not blame the Indian Cricket fans for the big "Let down" by a team which failed to make it to the last 4. For T-20 cricket, bowling has to be accurate and economical for full 20 overs. Indian Bowling is attrocious to put it politely. This backed by the "losing" attitude contributed a lot to the team not making to last 4.The team selected lacked some key players like Kohli & spinner Karthick.But even the selected team was good for last 4. Vinay Kumar should have played both the games on a fast track instead of Jadeja. Vinay taught Dhoni a lesson by bowling well on a slow tack against SL. Pathan never played well in any international level matches. Why is he in the 11? Dhoni's team selection & his bowling changes were irrational. He needs a plan of action against each opposition batsmen and needs to be firm with his bowlers to bowl to the field set. So, undisciplined batting, poor bowling and lack of winning attitude caused a poor performance. Fans high expectation was real.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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