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World Cup heartbreak in a college campus

A university student watches the 2023 final with his peers, but there is only disappointment to bond over

Abhijato Sensarma
There was little to cheer about as India never quite got going in the final  •  Ananya Madan

There was little to cheer about as India never quite got going in the final  •  Ananya Madan

Ashoka University looks barren on Sunday afternoon. The campus is a grand, polished feat of architecture situated in the middle of nowhere in Sonipat, an hour north of Delhi, where land has been given to private investors by the government to create urban university spaces.
The university's students have no one but each other for company most of the time. On Sunday afternoon, many walk towards the multipurpose hall in the sports block to watch India play Australia in the World Cup final. A grand screen is unfurled. More than 300 are expected to come by over the afternoon. The faces of a few of my friends wear expressions of regret, and the India flag painted on. For some of them, their relatives have gone to watch the match live in Ahmedabad, but the next best thing we can do is put on our India jerseys and gather here.
The hustle of academic life and the length of one-day internationals means most of us have watched the tournament on our own so far - on our phones in between classes, huddled in small groups at mess tables, or on our laptops when we should have been paying attention to the professor delivering a lecture. Today, we get together to celebrate India's inevitable coronation.
There are seas of "Virat" jerseys in both the stadium's stands and in our hall. At one point, my room-mate leans towards me and jokes that he will buy a shirt with Kuldeep Yadav's name on it just to stand out from the crowd. I grin, but we don't have a lot to joke about once Travis Head catches Rohit Sharma's mishit in the tenth over.
Wickets keep falling. The 300 or so people gathered in the hall are almost as silent as the 90,000 fans at the Narendra Modi Stadium when Virat Kohli is cleaned up by Pat Cummins. Soon enough, a few people filter out of the hall to grab a delayed lunch or because they can sense the dream faltering already.
My social media feed has tragicomic pictures of fellow Ashoka students with Shami posters, shaky footage of people celebrating India's initial dismissals at the hall, and one-liners to cope with Australia's chase
A girl sitting in front of me has slid down to the floor. Her back is to the screen as she completes an assignment due soon, but she is also praying to the picture of a Hindu deity on her screen. Like many others around me, I lean forward and ask for His blessings too. We do so jokingly, but as we wait for an acceleration that never arrives in India's death overs, our prayers turn serious.
Some of us slowly get up from our seats each time the ball crosses the 30-yard circle, only for the sound of expectation to be replaced by "oohs" and "aahs" as another Australia fielder inevitably cuts off the boundary. The crowd's pent-up energy finally explodes when Mohammed Shami comes to the crease - for now and ever, he has ascended to the status of cult hero - and nudges a ball off his pads for a rare boundary. But he is dismissed soon as well. There isn't much else to cheer for and we leave the hall during the innings break.
I go back to my hostel room and watch the second innings with a couple of friends, preferring their company over the 100 or so who have returned to the screening hall. But when India pick up their third wicket in the powerplay, I tell my room-mate: "Just one more wicket and we should go back there to celebrate with more people."
That next wicket never quite arrives. We sink into our chairs or under our blankets as Head keeps smacking India's bowlers into the stands. Hope fades and fades. The crowd empties from our hall and in the stadium, where the orange seats acquire a strange hue on our screens as the camera keeps cutting back to the prime minister and other disappointed celebrities. My social media feed has tragicomic pictures of fellow Ashoka students with Shami posters, shaky footage from the hall of people celebrating the wickets India took, and one-liners to cope with Australia's chase.
We see the Australian cricketers rush to the middle and celebrate another World Cup victory, letting the visuals plunge a dagger through our hearts. Then we switch to watching the latest episode of Koffee with Karan for some comfort. It's a fun watch, though I've already seen enough celebrity faces for the day.
Midway through the episode, I hear impromptu cricket being played on my floor. A tennis ball echoes in the corridor, followed by the appeals and suppressed laughter of those who had probably been watching the final, like us. They are coping with the loss in their own way. My mind drifts away from the disappointment on the faces of India's players as well as those of my friends.
We remain within a university campus, whose glitzy barrenness doesn't compensate for the visceral heartbreak of the World Cup final any better than the Narendra Modi Stadium does in Ahmedabad. But at that moment, I realise we'll move on, rediscovering the imperfect joys of sport in the cracks of our campus and its industrial polish soon enough.