This, that and the other. Mostly the other
Allow me to be a little self-centred for a moment. Earlier this year, when India were still labouring their way through the early stages of the World Cup, most of my friends on social networks - I don't meet real people anymore. They speak without word limits and usually don't wait for you to finish - were astonished by my optimism.
I was not just expecting India to win all the time. I was not just expecting India to win comfortably every time. I was expecting India to win by hundreds of runs and dozens of wickets, with their players scoring bucketfuls of hat-tricks and centuries in the process.
"Expecting imminent collapse..." was my favourite status update when the opposition came to bat. Later, when Dhoni walloped Sri Lanka into the stands, my optimism seemed spectacularly justified.
Since those heady days the wheels have somewhat come off the Indian cricket juggernaut. Wait. What somewhat? They have fallen off entirely, and the juggernaut is lying by the side of a main road in England, rotting in the rain and rusting in the sun.
Our cricket in England has been awful. Individual performances have been few and mostly inconsequential. Occasionally our fielding was elevated to pedestrian. Our bowling... What bowling? And on the rare occasion we were brave, fortune refused to favour us.
However, I have no doubt we will whip the English in the remaining one-day match. Our bowling will dismantle their batting, and our batting will make their bowlers think: "Aiyyo, unnecessarily became cricketer. Should have listened to daddy and chosen the lesser humiliation of becoming an English national footballer. Or tennis player."
Okay, because you ask, Virat Kohli will take at least one catch that will make him look impervious to the laws of physics. And Munaf Patel will emote. Eventually.
Yup. I'm still madly optimistic. Why? Because is there any other way to support the Indian cricket team? Is there any other way to support anything Indian?
Take the BCCI. From the mid 80s, when I began watching cricket, the Indian team has always performed despite the "best intentions" of the BCCI. As far as I can tell from the analyses of vastly more experienced cricket writers, the BCCI has always been a lumbering, greedy bureaucratic beast that errs on the side of commercial caution.
Now, if I was a rational sports fan, the BCCI would have put me off Indian cricket entirely. For about two decades now people have pointed out the same shortcomings with the board. It has got richer, more influential and, at least financially, more successful. And yet, in 2011, it can still manage to not have a stadium ready in time for a World Cup. I suspect these shortcomings will remain unchanged for the next 20 years. And I am accounting enough time for S Anirudha to play for India, retire and become the chairman of selectors.
Those are just the administrators. Don't even get me started on the IPL team owners, players, sponsors, bookies and the rest of the "well-meaning" cricketing fraternity. Faced with such towering incompetence and malevolence, my options as a fervent supporter are limited. Either I can be a rational, balanced supporter of an irrational, random establishment, and pull my hair out (which would explain some experts). Or I can always expect to lose and be humiliated, which seems an odd way to support a team, but is often a very satisfying one.
I choose a third option: I always expect India to win. No, I don't care if we're following on or have 10 runs to defend in five overs. I am 100% sure we will win. Somehow. Always.
This optimism can be pretty exhausting. Going by Dhoni's record, I am going to be let down approximately 40% of the time. People are going to heap ridicule on me. My heart is going to flutter more than any fan's should. I am going to pay unreasonable amounts for mobile updates. I am going to be the only guy in the Louvre looking at the Mona Lisa and thinking, "Required run-rate of 22.6? Totally doable. Please God..."
But irrational optimism is also remarkably easy. Because now you expect to win irrespective of fourth bowlers, short balls, genuine spinners and IPL fatigue. You don't care. Cricket, or any sport really, is too sublime to be reduced to equations. Who knows what divine courage made Dhoni promote himself up the order in that final? Or what gave Yuvraj that Zen-like calm for six balls? Or who briefly bestowed upon Kapil Dev the absurd ability to run while looking backwards? Or told Anil Kumble that a jaw is a meaningless appendage?
Things look horrible right now. It seems absurd to think this was the same team that was unstoppable till recently. But, for the optimist it is business as usual. For we know that things will eventually improve. Optimists don't worry about how and when (That would make us realists. When BCCI is involved? Ugh).
Join us. It will not be easy, but it will be fulfilling. For after night comes day. And everybody knows daybreak means more to those who stayed up all night waiting for the sun than to those who slept through the darkness.
Stay awake. The day will come. And I have a feeling that Sreesanth will bring it.
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