Dear India ke Cricket Crazy Fans,
On the cusp of World Cup glory, ahead of the semi-final clash with New Zealand at Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium, we have every right to ask ourselves – Is this really happening? It’s been an amazing World Cup 2023 so far, hasn't it? The stuff that we fans only secretly dream of.
Lemme elaborate a little bit.
In the very first match, bowling Australia out for just 199! And then, after losing 3 wickets for just 2 runs, fearing a ‘typical’ Indian batting collapse, a clinical Kohli and KL Rahul run chase took us home. Fans going Yaaayyy!
Skip ahead to the BIG clash with Pakistan. India bowls out Pakistan for just 191, with Rohit Sharma and Shreyas Iyer then coasting to an easy win. Stretching our lopsided World Cup record to 8-0 against Pakistan. Fans scratching their heads, not expecting it to be so easy.
A few more wins later, it’s defending champions England. Rohit Sharma again, with some help from Rahul and SKY. 229 is not huge, but proves more than enough as Shami and Bumrah clean ‘em up for just 129! Blown away.
Kya ho raha hai, bhai log? All of us Indian fans were seriously pinching ourselves by now, right?
But there was more.
Sri Lanka bowled out for just 55. Shami claiming 5 for 18! This time Gill, Virat, and Shreyas getting good scores. And in an anti-climax of a ‘top-of-the-table’ clash, South Africa bowled out for 83, with not a single Protea scoring even 15. This time Jadeja picked 5 for 33. Kohli getting to his 49th ODI hundred, equaling Sachin’s awesome record.
Every Box Has Been Ticked
Nine games and 18 points later, we’re at the top, unbeaten. This unheard-of situation, this string of ‘no-contests’ has the ‘Bharat Army’ spinning out in sheer joy. For guys like me, with greying beards, and memories of not-so-great World Cup campaigns, this is even more surreal. We would talk about the ‘winning habit’, but it was the Aussies who used to do it. That India could have run off 9 emphatic wins in a World Cup campaign was unreal (pinch, pinch, pinch).
What’s been satisfying for us, what we’ve really loved this time, is how every member of Team India has delivered, how every box has been ticked, isn’t it? So, so, satisfying. Yet again, lemme elaborate.
Rohit, or Sharmaji ka Beta gave himself the role of ‘Firestarter’, going after the bowling, focusing on a great strike rate in the first 10 overs, shifting the pressure onto the bowling side, allowing the batters further down to stay relaxed, bat deep, and run amok at the back end. No wonder Rohit Sharma has hit the most 6’s in this World Cup.
Next is Virat, or Sharma ji ke Damaad, who in recent months has effortlessly gone back to being the Kohli we all knew. The centuries are back, the clinical run-chases, the hard running between the wickets, the dancing to the crowds, the pumped celebrations at the fall of every wicket. It’s all back, and he is yet again the top scorer of the tournament.
At just the right time, the rest of India’s batting stars have also aligned. Gill, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul, and SKY have been in good batting form. All fitness issues are behind us. On any day, if one has not delivered, another has stepped up without fail. No nerves, just cool, sorted, positive, and professional.
And if you look at the bowling, the story just gets better. India has taken 86 of a possible 90 wickets in its nine matches. We’ve given away the least number of runs. And every bowler has delivered. Bumrah’s yorkers are back, and so are Siraj’s bouncers and in-swingers. Kuldeep has held onto the ‘mojo’ he found about a year or so ago. Jaddu has been lethal.
And, of course, Shami is the big story. Sitting out until Hardik Pandya limped off, he just exploded on the scene. Shami is now India’s highest wicket-taker in World Cup cricket history, despite playing way fewer matches.
With every box ticked - captaincy, fielding, team strategy, team spirit, fitness, individual performances – what we’re left asking is, what can now go wrong?
The LOVE and JOSH are up there! The fan memes and messages, the celebrities on social media, and former cricket gods on TV channels - everyone has cranked up the EXPECTATIONS from Team India! Rightly so.
A Very Clear Line Between Passion and Trolling
Lekin meri cricket ke aashiqon se ek appeal hai.
Hey lovely fans, IF the unthinkable happens, in the semi-final, or in the final, if our team stumbles, please do not let your love turn to hate, do not lash out in the stadiums and on the streets, do not turn to vicious trolling on social media. Don’t lose sight of the fact that these ‘Men in Blue’ have had a blinder of a tournament so far, and that should count for something.
Unfortunately us fans, we don’t have a great track record of taking adversity, of taking defeat, of taking a dip in performance, in our stride. Some among us have often been fickle, swinging from irrational love to inflammable hate.
Let's talk about Mohammed Shami himself. In October 2021, after India’s loss to Pakistan in the T20 World Cup, where India failed to defend 151, and Babar Azam and Rizwan romped to a 10-wicket win, Shami was singled out for brutal trolling. He was targeted for being a Muslim, he was called a traitor, he was asked to leave the country. It was arguably the darkest hour for Indian fans, as many of them chose to spew hate against Shami. What we need to guard against, is this.
And what we must appreciate about Shami is how he has never let that horrible trolling shake his commitment towards the game, nor his pride in playing for India. Those who trolled him back in 2021 have been well and truly silenced several times over by Shami, and never more so than in the last few weeks.
The argument that the line between passion for the game and trolling an Indian player who doesn’t perform is very thin, does not hold. It is in fact, a very clear line. Use of abusive language, hate speech, vulgar images, none of this happens unconsciously. Adding negative and hurtful hashtags to our tweets to create and be a part of a cascade of vicious trolling, is a conscious act.
Those among us who descend to this level, are not real cricket fans and are instead bullies, haters, and sadists.
Indian Cricket Fans must Come of Age
Another example of fickle fans turning on the hate one day, and love the next, are some of Virat Kohli’s fans. On the days that he scores, no one has a problem with his wife and well-known actress Anushka Sharma watching the game from the stands. But if he fails, she is trolled for being a ‘distraction’. As fans, can we really be that fickle, that stupid?
Yes, after winning in 2011, we stumbled in 2015 and 2019, both times in the semi-finals, so no fan wants to feel that pain again. And so, as fans, we have every right to be nervous. As fans, we come in all shapes, sizes, and moods. No problem with that.
A lot of us are well-informed about the game, we have statistics up our sleeves, we have elephantine memories about our greatest wins and losses. And we are free to express and share all of this. But none of it should feed into abuse and hate.
As responsible fans, we must respect our team’s talent, passion, and effort, no matter what the result. We must respect the boundaries of decency while commenting on individuals or on the team. Just like Team India, it is time for us Indian fans, to also come of age. Let’s tell ourselves to love our cricketers unconditionally, to always keep the faith, and to never abandon decency.
As Team India goes onto the pitch at Wankhede against New Zealand, and then hopefully keeps its appointment for the Final in Ahmedabad, and then maybe goes on to lift the World Cup for a 3rd time, let’s cheer with every passionate nerve, and muscle and vocal chord in our bodies, and may the best team win!