#ShamedInSydney, or #ShameOnUs? Time to move on, India
“…If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same…”
Mahendra Singh Dhoni wiped the barely discernable tears off his eyes as he sat down to face the gathered press for his mandatory debrief.
As he did so, a popular news channel had already put its huge TRP generating machinery into overdrive. The headline on our TV screens read “#ShamedInSydney”. A ticker listing out each and every mistake Dhoni’s men had made, and deriding them for having “disgraced” India at Sydney, ran along the bottom.
Soon a panel was called, as is the norm these days, and everything – from misfields and dropped catches, to missed run-outs and sloppy mishits – was re-played in slow motion and dissected in minute detail, and the players responsible were ripped into for their seemingly ‘abysmal’ performance.
The Cup had been handed back tamely, it seemed.
Without letting the facts get in the way of a good story, it was proclaimed, on behalf of 1.2 billion people, that India was outraged at how the national cricket team had performed. A 95-run margin of defeat in a World Cup Semifinal against Australia? How dare they!
How dare they, indeed!
How dare they jump from rank outsiders to firm favourites in the space of a mere seven games? How dare they thrash eternal rivals Pakistan and the pre-tournament favourites South Africa (Aussies were the first real test? Really?) en-route to achieving the best record for any nation in the group stages?
How dare the bowling attack, subject to such ridicule before the tournament, step up to the plate and bowl as well as they did? How dare every batsman in the team find form, and play an innings of substance, in one game or the other?
Whatever! India had lost. So let’s just forget what happened over the previous month and a half and focus on the few things that did not go well on this particular day.
What day was this, again? The day we were supposed to beat Australia. In Australia. When had that become the most straightforward task in world cricket?
As the pressure built in the semi, the young ‘uns cracked. As much as there were commendable efforts to break the suffocating hold of that intense pressure (Ravi Ashwin with the ball and Shikhar Dhawan with the bat, among others), the pressure affected everyone – even the greatest one-day international chaser in the modern game.
But that doesn’t mean they let India down. The young squad will learn from this experience, and emerge much the wiser. In the long run, this knowledge, these experiences can only be for the good of the game.
The media houses need to learn to let things go. As disappointed as the average Indian fan is wont to be (I was heartbroken, I will not deny it), it is time to accept what happened – praise the players for putting up such a strong fight, for fighting as a unit and displaying impeccable professionalism through the group stages, and for having been great ambassadors of the nation, and the sport.
Now, let’s move on. (To the undying credit of the Indian cricket fan, most of them have)
After all, there are other sports in the nation which could well do with even a tiny share of the airtime the mainstream media is spending on analyzing, and more often than not, criticizing the Men in Blue.
The “Other” sports
Sajan Prakash, Aakansha Vohra, Deborah Herold, Sandeep Kumar and Girisha Nagarajegowda. You have probably never heard of these names.
Sajan was the best male athlete in the recently concluded National Games (nine medals in swimming, including six Gold); Aakansha, the best female athlete in the Games (six swimming medals, including five Gold). Deborah is a tsunami survivor and Asian Cycling champion, Sandeep is a King’s Cup Gold medalist in Sepak Takraw, and Girisha is a Paralympic silver medal-winning high jumper.
Champions, all of them. Why, then, have we never heard their names? Is cricket such a dominant force, that we would sooner debate Anushka Sharma’s influence on Virat Kohli’s batting (none of our bloody business, in any case) than the exploits of champion athletes in other sports?
The result of this ignorance, this avoidance by the media, is evident for all to see – Sepak Takraw has received a mere four lakh rupees from the ministry in the 30 years of its existence in the country. The rundown state of the athlete quarters and facilities at the Paralympic Committee of India would scar you for life, and the less said about the National Games, the better – or so it seemed if we were to open up a national newspaper or a mainstream news/sports channel.
In Jamaica, the annual high school athletics championships are shown live on national TV (the perfect platform for kids like Usain Bolt and Yohann Blake to gain recognition and fame). In India, Sanjay Manjrekar’s predictions of what ‘could’ happen in the upcoming Cricket World Cup would any day trump Sajan Prakash and Aakansha Vohra ripping through meet records for fun.
It’s not just in the Olympic disciplines or the more obscure non-Olympian games that this bias exists either. Last month India beat Nepal in a FIFA World Cup qualifier, but not one channel showed the match live in India. Luis Garcia congratulated the nation from Spain, but not one news channel deemed it necessary to analyse the game or the consequences it would have for India’s future with the world’s most popular game.
Isn’t it about time we changed the status quo?
The popular rebuttal to this is that the media shows what the public demands. But very often, it is what the media shows that becomes public demand. No one is going to turn their backs on an exciting match of Sepak Takraw, or a Indian cyclist pedaling her way to gold in a continental championship, if only they received adequate airtime.
Giving other sports more attention would directly affect the government bodies running the show – whose increased thrust would better the medal winning prospects of Indian athletes, which in turn would pique greater public interest – in theory, a win-win cycle that can only cause the betterment of Indian sport.
Most jarringly though, even those few sports that have managed to squeeze through cricket’s omnipotent hold on the media are subject to the same ridiculous extreme treatment as India’s favourite game – you win, you are basically demi-gods, you lose, and you are the lowest form of scum on Planet Earth.
Saina Nehwal is past it just because she couldn’t win the All England Open (she reached the final, but meh! No Gold, no point praising her) and Viswanathan Anand should retire from the game for good, because of those reverses at the hands of Magnus Carlsen (yes, yes, he single-handedly dragged India onto the world’s chess map, but that was so long ago!?).
We, as a nation, and the men and women in the mainstream media, need to learn how to accept defeat. And move on.
Listen to the inimitable Mr. Kipling, India.
Grow a pair.