March 2, 2003

It's only a game, stupid!

"Who cares about the rest of the games. We have already won the real World Cup," claimed one face-painted, blue-clad youth, obviously more fond of his drink than cricket, in the glare of the television cameras.

At distant Marina Beach in Madras, meanwhile, fire-crackers were set off not because India has made it to the Super Sixes but because Pakistan had been beaten. "Fifty years ago Pakistan were separated from India, now India have separated Pakistan from the World Cup," said a delirious youth, obviously oblivious to the facts as they really are.

Indian Fans
© Reuters

Naturally, celebrations are in order. India won a spectacular game of cricket thanks to one of the best innings you'll ever see. Bring out the bubbly, give in to your most base desires and yell your guts out. But please, please show some taste in the manner in which you do so.

Reporters with their ears to the ground in South Africa, filed their dispatches before the start of the India-Pakistan clash. Win, or else... That was the mood in both camps. With political tensions simmering at unacceptably high levels the encounter took on more ramifications than a cricket match ever should.

Sure, the atmosphere of these games is terrific with fans from both sides being among the most boisterous. There's drum beating, flag waving, slogan chanting and even desperate praying. But then there is also the tear gas and lathi charges.

At least one person was killed in police fire in Ahmedabad as tensions boiled over after India's six-wicket win over Pakistan. The police have confirmed that 49 tear-gas shells were lobbed and three rounds fired in the communally sensitive areas of Shahpur, Rakhial and Gomtipur in Ahmedabad.

In the city of Baroda, three cars and a restaurant were torched by mobs after the win and the police had to patrol the streets till the wee hours.

Elsewhere, groups of youths took to terraces of buildings and pelted revelers with stones, causing more violence to break out.

In bizarre incidents down South in Karnataka, one person in a dairy was killed as a boiler exploded. Anxious to watch the match, the worker apparently cranked up the heating to dangerously high levels in order to speed up production.

In a Bangalore suburb, two people were killed and at least five injured as enthusiasts piloting an auto-rickshaw drove recklessly through the streets, crashing into a lorry.

Sourav Ganguly
© Reuters

In Kolkata, probably the most fanatic of all Indian cities, groups of youths burnt midnight bonfires on the streets and amazingly enough, raised the slogan "Ganguly should be immediately dropped from the team!" and "Ganguly Down! Down!" Sure, Ganguly got out for a first-ball duck, but then again he also led India to one of its most significant victories in recent times.

If these are the reactions in India, one can only imagine the mood in Pakistan. And that's a sobering thought.

A quick look at the points table tells you that Pakistan, despite the defeat, are still very much capable of qualifying for the Super Sixes. This means that an India-Pakistan semi-final is very much on the cards. What happens then to these revelers if India loses in that game and gets knocked out of the World Cup? Will they burn more buses, break the windows of cricketers' cars, like they did at the Dravid residence in Bangalore? Will they tar players' houses, as they did to Mohammad Kaif's home in Allahabad? Will they burn effigies of Sourav Ganguly?

You can be sure they will. And that's the tragedy of it all.

Before the start of the India-Pakistan match, dubbed `the mother of all matches', Indian vice-captain Dravid spoke to the press, assuring fans that the game was just another one: that the cricketers were all professionals and tried their best against every team, not just Pakistan. Soon after, the captain echoed these thoughts and for good measure the Pakistan camp too agreed.

Not because this was necessarily the whole truth, but because this is only a game. And cricketers learn to accept victories with losses, bouquets with brickbats, and the more philosophical, joy with sorrow. It's high time the average Indian fan did the same.