In a moment of rare, quiet reflection, millions of India's teeming cricket-crazy fans may want to think of cheering in the future a team that might defeat their favourites.
Much as we love "Crowd India" egging on Team India, there is something called the sportsman's spirit that the Men In Blue displayed magnificently as they lost to Australia in the ICC Cricket World Cup final on Sunday that was not quite matched off the field by those who had come to cheer them.
Some pointless booing during the award ceremony and earlier in the tournament when Pakistan was playing, were things that could have been avoided — as well as the silence that the roaring crowd displayed as India moved towards defeat. "In sport, there is nothing more satisfying than hearing a big crowd go silent," winning captain Pat Cummins had said a day before the finale.
He did what he aimed for. In that, there is a hidden message for Crowd India.
That apart, it is best to look at the just concluded international event as something Indians can be proud of for reasons that go beyond the magnificent performance and entertaining cricket provided by Rohit Sharma's boys.
Cricket is Back!
My favourite go-to cricket quote from Carribean writer C L R James, "What do they know of cricket who cricket only know?" comes in handy. Cricket has returned well and truly as the gentleman's game in the fighting-yet-friendly attitude displayed by most teams, with a sense of fair play that is heart-warming. Every team conducted itself well throughout the tournament.
Look beyond that. James also spoke of colonialism and the cultural aspects of the game. When India came back from a successful tour of the West Indies and England in 1971, it was the first instance of beating its former colonial masters at their own game. This year's World Cup showed that India is now the centre of world cricket itself. The Board of Control for Cricket in India has surprised many by being a creative, efficient and commercially successful organiser of the game that has significantly transcended its Commonwealth roots.
Host India and Team India outdid Crowd India in the process.
About 25 years ago, as the world of cricket witnessed a power-shift from Britain to the subcontinent, there was tension in the International Cricket Conference. Match-fixing scandals featuring Indian and Pakistani cricketers made matters worse. The arrival of Twenty20 games took away some of the laid-back charm of the game, at least for old-schoolders like myself.
Looking back, cricket has come not just a full circle to the gentleman's game but also shines in new colours. It is delightful to see reverse sweeps, impish placements, temptress deliveries and power hooks in the limited-overs format but equally visible are elegant drives and glances and wicked spin that show that two styles of cricket can co-exist across formats.
Using Cricket as a Stepping Stone to Other Sporting Glories
I still recall the first day of the first World Cup match India played in 1975 in which Sunil Gavaskar scored 36 not out in 60 overs with not a clue regarding how it is done! West Indies won that cup, and it is an irony of ironies that the Carribeans did not even quality for the tournament this year while India's batsmen showed time and again that they can play every shot in the book to perfection.
The born-again ICC in which India is a pivot can take credit for making the game arrive as a truly global game. There was a sobering tweet during the final that showed how cricket is still confined to only a handful of nations on the world map, but the stellar performance of both Netherlands and Afghanistan in the tournament — and the ouster of West Indies — showed that cricket is more global than it ever was before.
The Afghans alone made the tournament worth it with their elan.
From refugee camps in Pakistan to global premier leagues, it has been a fascinating journey, not just for them but also for the game! At home, meanwhile, the international rise of Team India's small-towners like Mohammed Shami and Shubman Gill showed that cricket has expanded as much into the Indian hinterland as into new global destinations.
A newspaper headline one day before the Ahmedabad game speculated the event as an "Era-Defining Final." It certainly was though not on the field as much as off it. India is now a Vishwaguru in cricket attempting to match soccer in global reach. India is still a wannabe in the Olympics, both as a participant and organiser, but we can consider cricket as a stepping stone to other sporting glories as the economy surges ahead.
Indeed, India's economy was the big undercurrent in the Cricket World Cup this year. Never has the world seen tens of thousands of cricket fans filling stadiums in an expansive sea of blue sporting expensive team jerseys bought well above cost. Outrageous hotel tariffs and the surge in televsion advertisements showed that international cricket in India is now matching American Football's Super Bowl in commercial razzmatazz. As one of the world's fastest-growing major economies at 7.2 percent in the last fiscal, there is much that India can offer to the game in the years ahead.
The arrival of Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh as an international cricket ground is a Himalayan achievement in more sense than one. The picturesque venue that also happens to be the abode of Tibetan Buddhist guru, the Dalai Lama, at 1,457 metres above sea level with a fine view of snowcapped peaks has taken cricket literally to new heights. This is a place you want to talk about beyond the games it hosts.
Two images from the final game tell me the game is still glorious, both featuring Indian paceman Jasprit Bumrah. In the first, he walked after he was out lbw without waiting for the umpire's word and without seeking a review, bringing back memories of the times when gentlemen used to honour the umpire's word and simply "walk" in a sign of integrity and discipline. A whole later, Bumrah was consoling teammate Mohammad Siraj who was in tears after Team India's defeat.
If only frenzied, parochial fans could match that gentleness, India's claim to leadership in the game would be complete.
(The writer is a senior journalist and commentator who has worked for Reuters, Economic Times, Business Standard, and Hindustan Times. He can be reached on Twitter @madversity. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)