It’s the last over of the match. Chasing Australia’s score of 247, India have only been able to muster 214 runs by the end of the 49th over. Without any of the star batsmen left on the pitch, victory from this point is virtually impossible. It’s been a disappointing showing by the batting side at home.
And as the game nears its end, the home crowd isn’t jeering their side out of embarrassment, nor are they encouraging them out of support; they are just eerily quiet. Not angry or hopeful, just disinterested.
It’s a familiar feeling for those still left battling it out on the field. Indian fans stop caring when India stops winning.
A week ago, a panel of eminent Indian sportspersons – Dilip Vengaskar, Anjum Chopra (Cricket), Dhanraj Pillay (Hockey), IM Vijayan (Football) and Ashwini Ponnappa (Badminton) – commissioned and released a report conducted on ‘Measuring India’s Cheer Quotient’, by TenVicks. According to this report, which surveyed several Indian sportspersons from different fields, Indian sports fans are some of the least supportive in the world. A mere 14 percent of sportspersons surveyed believed that India stands by them even when they are losing, as compared to England at 42 percent and Australia at 36 percent. More than half the Indian athletes believed that they faced unsupportive crowds at home when they weren’t winning.
Perhaps what is most shocking about the results mentioned above is that the results are not shocking. We have all watched Indian teams and athletes – in cricket, hockey, football, tennis, basketball, or others – and we have all experienced the crowds, whether watching via our television sets or being a part of that crowd ourselves. The support is deafening at times of high drama or when the going is good. In other cases, we usually move on, turning our backs on the teams and the sports that we claim to love.
The roots of the problem go far deeper than frustrated fans at the losing end of the game. Most Indian sports fans are India fans, not sports fans.
There is no secret that in India, every sport not named ‘Cricket’ has failed to capture the imagination of the majority of the nation. Indians might briefly care about Vishwanathan Anand when he climbs to the top of the chess world, or Saina Nehwal when she wins international tournaments, or Abhinav Bindra when he wins our first ever Olympic Gold Medal, or any of the other Olympians that returned with medals from London, but our interest in these stories is only temporary. When the dust settles we return to our cricket addictions again, focusing on the nightlife of Rohit Sharma far more than the hard work of Sushil Kumar.
But I’m here to tell you that even that cricket craze doesn’t run deep. Of course, Cricket is in India’s nervous system, gushing through every gullie in every neighbourhood of the country. But how does that grassroots passion translate to national or club support? Of course, our country has perhaps the most knowledgeable, persistent, and passionate cricket fans in the world. But there is also a vast number of cricket fans in India who like the game because we are good at the game, who like it because we can challenge the world’s best at the game, and who like it because the private investors behind the game have done a more than brilliant job at selling the ‘show’ of cricket to the masses.
This is evident from results such as the TenVicks survey, which go on to show that, without success or surrounding drama, cricket to Indian audiences can become as ‘boring’ as any of the other sports. The hardcore cricketers will still show up the next morning at the field or the back-street to play a match, but the attention span of India’s cricket-watching public will dwindle. This is already evident by the dropping numbers of viewers for the longer and more conservative Test Matches.
Now, if you are reading this article, chances are that you are most likely not of that majority. Chances are that you care deeply about some or many of India’s sports and India’s athletes. Chances are that you will stand by your team no matter what happens in the game. Chances are that you like the aesthetics of the sport too much to turn your back, even for a second. Chances are that you like the sport itself, not just the result.
But unfortunately, the hard truth is that most Indians are just not a sport-loving public. We like to watch Cricket the most because we like to play Cricket the most, and because Cricket has given us an international identity like no other. But sometimes we care about that identity and our place in the world more than the team or the sport itself. The same goes for other sports: when the Indian hockey or football team performs well, or when our shooters and boxers stand strong besides the world’s best, our interest in those sports is spiked temporarily. But just like watching a losing cricket side, our interest in those other sports disappears once the stars fail to perform.
In truth, it would be unfair to expect fans to be in good spirits when their teams aren’t successful, but if they really were fans of the team, then they should at least let their support be heard. If they liked the sport that they came out to watch then they should appreciate the brilliance and the beauty of the sport regardless of the circumstances.
I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to care about losing, because it makes the joy of victory even more special. I’m here to say that it’s okay to care about a sport and not just about the Indians involved in the sport. I’m here to encourage you to try other sports too, not just the ones where we’re hyped up, like cricket, or just the ones where we are sometimes successful, like Chess, Tennis, or Badminton, but also the ones that can be fun to watch regardless of the competitors or the result.
Let’s start truly loving sports, and soon, we’ll discover the true ecstasy of what it means to cheer for the winning side.