April 25, 2014

Why India are like many football teams

The untold riches, the pampered stars, the blue pyjamas, the unpredictability in tournament finals - who does that remind you of?

But no self-respecting football team would ever celebrate like this © ICC

With all due respect to the recent debate on this website as to whether or not India deserve to be called the Brazil of cricket, I believe we have been barking up the wrong analogy altogether. I put it to you that trying to decide whether or not India are cricket's Brazil (or any one team) is moot, because there are simply too many football analogies, for better and for worse, that can be applied to Indian cricket today.

In other words, it's not just Brazil, stupid. It's also Manchester City. And Argentina. And… surely not England? Yes, England, too. And more besides.

It should come as no surprise that a club like Manchester City has more in common with Indian cricket than Brazil. Let's look at the obvious similarities: while popular among their own fans, both teams often face flak for their perceived untold riches and pampered superstars, many of whom are required to be wrapped in lavender-scented cotton wool and stored in a cool, dry place at the end of each day's play.

Like Brazil, the revamped, modern-day City team also play with considerable natural flair, but, as with Indian cricket, it is a flair that can suddenly and inexplicably desert them in their moment of greatest need. Like their Man City counterparts, Indian cricketers today are sometimes perceived as being little more than moneyed mercenaries who can outplay anybody on their day and then up and lose in a major final to Sri Lanka (the Wigan Athletic of cricket, anyone?) or to banana-peel Bangladesh (who incidentally have the same number of letters as Sunderland in their name) in a key league game that comes back to haunt them for the rest of the tournament (World Cup 2007). More importantly, City wear that hideous shade of pastel blue that India used to don, which made them look like they were wearing a set of borrowed pyjamas.

Speaking of pyjama-style kits, it should not be forgotten that India once played Argentina to Pakistan's Brazil. Yes, let me come right out and say it: the '80s and early '90s Pakistan had arguably more of a right to be called Brazil than today's Indian team does. For sheer natural talent and streetwise charisma, Pakistan could not be matched. India were more like Argentina, in that they were the region's second-best team for a long, long time. Always the bridesmaid.

On further reflection, however, calling the Indian team of the '80s the Argentina of cricket is to be overly generous; it probably makes more sense to call them, oh, I don't know, the Venezuela of cricket. Or, if you wanted to be mean about it, the Indian football team of Indian cricket. Hey, it's not as bad as it sounds. The Indian footie team may have lost regularly to Bangladesh and Nepal back in the day, but they used to make it a point to always beat Maldives. I think. I hope.

Perhaps the more fitting comparison of the two teams in the nightmare era of the '80s, which saw India lose to Pakistan almost every single limited-overs match the two played, no matter how close the game was, is the trope of hapless England always losing out on penalties, especially to Germany.

Of course, modern Indian cricket today is also similar to English football in another way: they both boast of having the games' most popular and expensive leagues, to which, for an obscene amount of money, the crème de la creme of the world's players flock to show off the very latest in designer hairstyles and luridly coloured footwear. They sometimes even manage to get in a few games.

Such gratuitous rubbing of shoulders, however, does not necessarily translate to success on the world stage for the local talent. Okay, sure, the Indian cricket team has fared a great deal better than the English football team has, but World Cup wins are by no means, as some would have you believe, a formality. Especially not in the T20 format, which still remains about as predictable as Luis Suarez being fended off in front of the goal by a buffet of tantalisingly juicy forearms in terms of being able to accurately foretell a match-winner, let alone the winner of a whole tournament. It might even be said, then, that the World T20 is much like the FA Cup, in a way. You never know who might show up in the final and win the damn thing.

Modern-day Indian cricket, then, is not just Brazil, it is not just England, it is not Argentina or Venezuela, and it certainly is not the Indian national football team, poor sods. Rather, it is all these teams combined; the good, the bad, and the just plain wrong.

Maybe instead of unnecessarily looking to bask in the stolen light of Brazilian football, Indian fans should just accept their cricket team for what it is: the teeming, layered, functioning multiple-personality disorder of a Salman Rushdie novel that the nation itself is often celebrated for being, and not the Paolo Coelho novella it isn't.

R Rajkumar tweets here.
All quotes and "facts" in this piece are made up, but you knew that already, didn't you?