THE new sunday express MAGAZINE Voices Anand Neelakantan Ritu Khanduri Sumeet Bhasin Ravi Shankar Neha Sinha Mata Amritanandamayi Buffet People Wellness Books Food Art & Culture Entertainment october 1 2023 SUNDAY PAGES 12 mark your dates Oct 8 Australia, Chennai Oct 11 Afghanistan, New Delhi Oct 14 Pakistan, Ahmedabad Oct 19 Bangladesh, Pune Oct 22 New Zealand, Dharamsala Oct 29 Home Advantage England, Lucknow Nov 2 Sri Lanka, Mumbai As India gets ready to stage a fourth 50-over World Cup—the first the country is hosting entirely by itself— the cricket will be enthralling, but the tournament will be unlike any other sporting event in the nation F By Vishnu prasad ew relationships in sports are as fascinating as the one between the cricket World Cups and the Indian psyche. One could probably use World Cups as landmarks to identify changes in how the country perceives itself, and not be off by a lot. The barely believable victory in 1983 was proof of how India was slowly beginning to transition from being a newly independent nation, still shaking off the scars of colonialism, to one that was genuinely beginning to believe that it could be a world leader. Here was a team—laughed at by the former colonial masters as tourists and sightseers—that trumped the best in the world to lift the cup on foreign soil. The successful hosting of the 1987 event only served to reinforce the notion that the country was beginning to wake up to its potential. By the time the 1996 World Cup came along, a lot had changed. India was five years into liberalisation and had begun to spread its wings and assert itself on the global stage as a potential economic powerhouse. Cricket was probably the first product that had the country as its biggest market, and the 1996 edition was the genesis of that shift. There was now a worthy god for the devotees to worship in Sachin Tendulkar, someone who made being the best in the world look so easy and natural. That tournament too was a roller-coaster ride. A win in a memorable quarterfinal in Bengaluru triggered nationwide euphoria while a loss in the semifinal at the Eden Gardens triggered riots. Being the fourth-best in the world at something was no longer good enough. The 2003 team was a reflection of the typical small-town youngster—brash, fearless, rid of the post-colonial inferiority complex and ready to look pretty much anyone in the eye. When Ashish Nehra bulldozed through the England batting, taking six wickets, before stopping to munch on a banana in full view of the cameras, it somehow came across as the most Indian thing to do. When Tendulkar slashed Shoaib Akthar over third man for one of the most iconic sixes the game had seen, it reflected the audacity that India was slowly getting used to. Eight years later, the feeling in the air was one of entitlement. Nobody was surprised when the country won the World Cup on home soil. Emotional maybe, but not surprised. Of course, this was a trophy that was long overdue. Of course, it was unimaginable that Tendulkar would have to retire without winning a World Cup. If the 1983 victory was met by gasps of surprise, 2011 was met by the sort of satisfaction that follows when expectations had been met. Twelve years on, the first ball of another World Cup will be bowled on home turf. There are a number of things that it tells us about what the country is right now. It’s the first World Cup that India are hosting by themselves, a reflection perhaps of how the world has stopped treating it as a subcontinent and more as a country The kind of fervour . and excitement that usually precedes a home World Cup has been conspicuous by its absence, as the market has matured. The game may still be the most important thing, but it is no longer the only thing. Then there is the politics of it. In 2023, Indian society can no longer distance itself from public affairs, for it has become personal. A decade-and-a-half ago, it was still possible to have an extended conversation with someone without being exposed to where their political leanings lay Such an interac. tion is hard to come by these days. Everything is political— cuisine, language, clothing, religion. It is no surprise that the World Cup too can be seen in the same light. The English can talk all they want about trophies coming home, but if one has to go by the adage, home is where the heart is, then there is only one place cricket can call home. The sport stopped being a game when Kapil Dev and his band of unfancied devils lifted the trophy in 1983. Since then, cricket has become a religion unlike any other, where gods have to be wary of devotees; for, any sign of fallibility will end up in expulsion from the pantheon. A bad start to the 2003 edition saw attacks on the houses of multiple cricketers. But keep giving them what they want and there is no end to their devotion. Ask Tendulkar or MS Dhoni—they may no longer wear the blue jersey, but Men in Blue celebrate the 2011 World Cup win a grateful nation still queues up to buy whatever product they promote on the telly . The tournament comes back here at a time when murmurs of discontent are beginning to ring louder. Television channels and streaming apps still have to keep going back to 2011 for their ‘India shining’ programming. Many still fondly recollect Dhoni’s six off the last ball in the final, but that memory is beginning to yellow. The Men in Blue have won little of note since. India were powerless to stop Australia on their turf in the semifinals in 2015. Four years later, it was the turn of their neighbours, New Zealand, to crush India’s hopes at the same stage. A Champions Trophy crown in 2013 is India’s last major international victory and a decade has passed since. Gods cannot afford to look mortal for this long. This is, after all, India. All Nov 5 will be forgiven in an instant if the dopamine burst on offer is strong enough. If Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli can lead this team to victory, they too can rest easy knowing that their legacies are safe, much like Tendulkar and Dhoni’s. As for their chances on the field, the team will head into the tournament as clear favourites to end this drought. Their recent form indicates that they are peaking at just the right time. The victory in the Asia Cup was a display of arrogance that was a callback to Sourav Ganguly’s and Dhoni’s teams. They showcased their strength with the ball in the final of the tournament by dismissing the entire Sri Lankan team for just 50 runs. Then, they showed how formidable they can be with the bat by smashing Australia all around the park for 399 runs. The win catapulted India to the top of the ODI rankings. “I am very happy with the last 10 ODIs we played,” said India captain Rohit Sharma ahead of third ODI against Australia. “A lot of the guys came back into form scoring runs and the bowlers taking a lot of wickets. In the last few games, we saw players coming back from injury as well. They have proven their fitness. So we are pretty much settled at this point of time, with how we stand and where we stand. It is just about taking the team forward in the best possible way Looking at the last 10 or 11 . ODIs, there have been a lot of positives,” he added. The likes of Sharma, Kohli and Hardik Pandya are all match-winners on their day, but perhaps the best sign is that Jasprit Bumrah seems to have finally put his injury woes behind him. On his day, there are few in the world who can effectively stand up to the Baroda pacer. Another player who has returned to the fold Turn to page 2 South Africa, Kolkata Nov 11 Netherlands, Bengaluru “I am very happy with the last 10 ODIs we played. A lot of guys came back into form, scoring lots of runs, and bowlers taking wickets. In the last few games we saw guys who came back from injury as well; they have proven their fitness. So we are pretty much settled at this point with how and where we stand.” Rohit Sharma, India captain
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