In defeat, India can still win
To attempt to kick a round object between two poles or send a bunch of feathers over a net or attempt to knock over three wooden sticks with a leather ball might appear to be some of the most pointless things that man can do. Yet it is this very pointlessness that gives sport its allure. At its best sport means nothing beyond itself because it is artificial, controlled, and the rules change to take in either popular sentiment or commercial interest.
It is also the most profound activity we can engage in; to paraphrase Bill Shankly, the legendary football coach, said, sport is not a matter of life and death - it is more important. Countries have gone to war over sport; economies have improved or collapsed over world championships; dictatorships have been given legitimacy over a tournament. This is the irony of sport - it is a pointless exercise full of meaning; an evolutionary step that makes us uniquely human.
To the philosophical, sport is a microcosm of life with its dangers, pressures and the need to make a thousand judgements that would affect the outcome. Through the psychological membrane that separates sport from real life, it is acceptable when situations from the former pass into the latter. When the US President Richard Nixon asked the moon-walking astronauts "Did you get the results of the All-Stars game?" it seemed both natural and vital. Sport can seep into life, but when the reverse happens it upsets the natural order of things. When real life breaks through and enters a sporting activity bringing with it death, it is unfair.
Therefore, to term India's departure from the World Cup a tragedy is ridiculous. Tragedy is when a coach is murdered. Tragedy is when a world champion driver is killed on the circuit. Tragedy is not to understand what is tragedy. Dropping a catch is not a tragedy, being thrown out of the World Cup because batsmen can't score runs is not a tragedy. In fact, it is a farce.
If you saw the Australia-South Africa encounter, you knew that India had no chance in this World Cup. These two teams have taken the one-day game to a different plane altogether. Everything is based on physical fitness and the ability to think on the feet. Two qualities that India lacked. If anything, by their refusal to acknowledge the importance of fielding and fitness, India were actually taking the game backwards. Shane Watson throwing down the stumps from the boundary to break a 160-run opening partnership is what it's all about. It turned the match, and perhaps the tournament itself.
If a team with nearly 40,000 runs among them cannot chase 255 on a good batting track, they have no business to remain in the World Cup. And that has to be the bottom line. The economic and marketing reasons for India to advance cannot take precedence over the cricketing ones. On the field India were found wanting, and it does not matter how much of the money generated for the game comes from India.
The sound of India's hopes crashing could be heard from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Ahmedabad to Guwahati. It will be heard for generations. The optimist thought India might still qualify for the Super Eights - Bermuda needed to beat Bangladesh for that. However, the uncertainties of cricket are not that glorious.
Perhaps it is good that India lost. The Board of Control for Cricket in India, with its huge resources, its unbearable hubris and total disregard for the paying spectator in India, has been put in place. The basics is not such a bad place to go back to. The chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar has said that there is no talent in India. Who is responsible for that? The cry for the coach's head, the captain's head, the best players' heads are so strident, the odd cry for the Board officials' heads goes unheard.
If the disgrace leads to soul-searching, something can still be salvaged. Let us restore the importance of domestic cricket. University cricket, which provided generations of players in the past, means nothing today. This nursery has dried up for want of nourishment.
The signs were apparent on the West Indies trip a year ago when we lost the series 1-4. But we refused to see it, blinded as we were by the home victories over Sri Lanka. The ordinary fan may be blinded, but the administrators, the coach and the so-called think tank? The media believed their own hype, hence their reaction. We were fooled, and we demand an explanation.
Before the tournament began, Bishan Bedi had said, "I don't know which will be worse - India winning the tournament or not winning it." Winning would have been great for the team, but bad for cricket; losing would have been good for cricket, but bad for the team. It will take a few months before the effigy-burners fully understand the wisdom of that point of view.
Suresh Menon is a cricket writer based in Bangalore