This is for those great "patriots" who picked a scuffle with Indian cricketers at a West Indian pub. "We came all this way to watch you play and you let our country down", they said to a group of players who very undeservedly were looking to party after being humiliatingly knocked out of the competition. A lot of people I know supported the "patriots" wholeheartedly. 'A beating is what will bring them back to their senses' seemed to be the word of advice freely thrown around.
Yes, the majority of the current Indian cricket team is woefully unfit, grossly overpaid and unnecessarily hyped. But we tend to easily forget who put them there in that unsavoury place. These are players who like you and me started off in the same dusty cricket grounds probably with a flimsy bat and a rubber ball. However the difference between us and them is that they stuck to their dream of playing in the national colours, not content merely to watch cricket on TV but to be the cricket on TV. When they made it to where they wanted to be, the spotlight fell on them with all the attendant pitfalls. As a nation, we are all collectively guilty of watching and playing only cricket and advertisers aren't such dimwits that they wouldn't notice the overwhelming bias. They know where to spend their money.
While national hockey teams slept on airport floors, cricketers moved around in limousines & relished a plush existence in 5 star hotels. The struggle to make it to the national level, no matter what the sport is, is no joke, but the stark difference between cricket and the others once you get there is tragic. But does that really give us the right to bash our cricketers up for under-performance, especially since they did not force us to watch cricket at gun-point? It is we, of our own free will, who watch them and cheer for them. Given the continuous focus on them, can we really blame them for accepting the buckets of cash thrown their way to endorse a world of products, devoted followers by the millions that they have? Even if a quarter of its people who spend hours and days watching cricket turned their focus to Indian athletics or other field/court sports, India wouldn't have to be content with the shame of winning only a handful of medals at every Olympics and be ranked 132 in soccer by FIFA.
Swear at them, curse them, hate them with all vehemence for letting your hopes and the hopes of a nation down - but all from within the confines of your living room. Watching sport would be a meaningless activity if it were not the passions it stirs. Everyone wants to be on the side of a winning cause but it does help to accept that we are not talking of robots taking the field here. All the best laid plans and the most intense training regimes may come to nought exactly at the moment the first ball is bowled or the first shot is sent flying out of the ground. There are a lot of mental factors at play and no matter how many times you may have been in that situation, every game is a new game as anyone who has ever participated in a nail-biter of a terrace cricket match will testify. The joys of victory are as exhilarating, as is suicidally depressing the spectre of defeat.
Things happen to people, both great and detestable, when under the glare of live cameras and when within hearing range of thousands of roaring fans. Say what you will, but you have to give each and every player that concession for human failure. Just because you bought a ticket to watch them, or missed dinner and India lost the match due to that dropped catch or poor over hardly qualifies you to give an actual black eye to the guilty party or be gleeful that somebody was moronic enough to try doing that. Anger and bitterness are fully justified in the case of fans watching from a distance but not its physical or verbal manifestation when face to face with the actual player. The players are not performing monkeys or video-game characters who operate by pressing A or B buttons or various combinations to perform the appropriate action at exactly the right time. They are out there on the field, with at least the capability of doing something which the fans could not do themselves in a lifetime (Yeah! I know many Indian cricket fans would like to joke that they can field and bowl better than Ravindra Jadeja on current form but all of them know the reality) and that reason alone disqualifies the fans from the moral right to personally confront the players. Harbhajan Singh might still be the right authority to lambast the 'famed' Indian batting line-up for he did show on the Barbados ground that he could handle the Aussie pacers better than them, but not the over-enthusiastic fan who only chugs beer on the boundary ropes jiggling his pot-belly which might one day give Yuvraj Singh's a run for his money.
Which brings me to the subject of Yuvraj Singh. Wasn't it only 2007, just 3 years ago, when we were all agog at his magnificent 6 sixes in an over and then his battering of the Aussies in the semis to such an extent that the Kangaroos couldn't figure out where to hide? Even if he now has to field at mid-on instead of at point indicating his decline from an once excellent fielder and even if he has to grow a beard to conceal his double-chin, it is up to the selectors to drop him from the team and not a fan's prerogative to drop a beer bottle on his head. Whatever may be his 'lifestyle' problems, if he can regain his original form while out of the playing 11, there is nothing in the world which can prevent his rightful re-entry into the team given the magic he has in his hands. In the meantime, if people are looking to rough him up, it can only cause him further physical injury, not to mention severely dent his confidence levels. No bowler, batsman or fielder is going to perform better if the constant threat of being manhandled by a mob of irate fans hangs like a sword above him.
As for the final bit, the ultimate excuse for beating cricketers to a pulp, the supposed damage to the "pride of the nation". Where is the pride of the nation when there is a need to take on the eve-teasers of your mohalla? Where is the pride of the nation when corrupt municipalities siphon crores of rupees in broad daylight while roads stay broken, garbage stays un-picked and uninterrupted power supply is a theoretical concept? Where is the pride of the nation when thousands of fellow citizens are perishing in a civil war in rural India between the thieving 'haves' and the violent 'have-nots'? Where is the pride of the nation when it is being torn apart by religious fundamentalism, casteism and regionalism, and absolutely no one in the public sphere is man enough to speak up, examine both sides of the story and seek a peaceful solution for fear of the voters' backlash? No, we would much rather protest our captain Dhoni's 'inexplicable' support for a young Jadeja and paint the walls of his house black as it is the easier thing to do. Everything else preceding that requires a lot of patience and is actually of consequence to the future of India. Everything else preceding requires a lot of personal courage putting life and limb on the line as the 'enemies of the nation' you take on there are much more dangerous than the average Indian fast bowler (who can't even get a yorker in the right place) out for a drink with his equally harmless buddies. Everything else is where we see volunteers for the cause of the nation vanish into thin air. Cricket is at best a diversion from the real issues plaguing "the pride of the nation" and it would serve us all well indeed to keep that in mind.
Yes, I hated the Indian cricket team for losing like they did in this World Cup. It made me mouth unmentionable things about their pasts, presents and futures all day long but at one point I had to stop because it is just a game and they are just normal persons with vastly superior cricketing abilities. There are way more important things to worry and crib about in daily life than to spend hours plotting the assassination of batsmen who can't play the short ball. Winning does matter the most but defeat has its own invaluable lessons to teach. So, Mr. Indian-fan-who-tore-Ashish-Nehra's-shirt-in-a-bar-brawl (False hero for countless other equally ridiculous Indian cricket fans), get a life! If you are a real patriot, just wait for the 2011 World Cup, put on your India T-shirt no matter who is in the playing XI and go "Indiaaaa, Indiaaa, Clap, Clap.... Indiaaaa, Indiaaa". Pray like you have done a million times before that Dhoni's boys will rise to the chant and the occasion.