Back after a wild party on the street. No one knows anybody else out there, but everyone is everybody else’s best friend tonight. The one thing that binds this country together, has also brought us our biggest joy in recent years, and the biggest festival of any of the numerous religions followed here. But then again, if one has to look closely, it will be clear that the real religion is, cliched as it might sound right now, CRICKET.
We are a country that is pulled apart by ideologies that are in stark contrast to each other. We are a nation where everyone is looking in a different direction, of their own choosing or ignorance, and lack a leader who can point out the right direction and make everyone look there. But come match day, everyone is a follower of cricket. Race doesn’t matter, religion is forgotten, social class is banished, gender is ignored, all that remains is the pure, unadulterated love for the game. And tonight, that love for the game has reached it’s crescendo.
2003 was a heartbreak. 2007 was a shame. What followed was a painful rebuilding exercise. Stung by a divisive coach who ended up ruining the careers of two of the finest players of our generation, we knew this was not the way to build a world conquering team. We got a young, unknown face to replace a veteran as the captain – wicketkeeper. A mild mannered South African took on the stressful job of the coach. We found talent from the under 19 team, and also began grooming the youngsters from the regional sides. Somewhere on the strategy boards of the dressing rooms, a team was taking shape.
In the meantime, we started winning. And we started winning big. The Australians were ridiculed at their home, and only an apology of a match at Sydney meant we didn’t come up aces. But we crushed them at Perth. Other championship material teams were also ruthlessly taken care of. We became a force to be reckoned with. A team that had suddenly found its killer instinct. A team that had the brashness and ‘in-your-face’ attitude of the Australian team, but not their arrogance, and certainly not their foul mouths and dishonest ways.
More knowledgeable people than me will always maintain that the recently retired Australian captain was a true legend of his craft. I would politely, but strongly disagree. He had the privilege to lead stalwarts, absolute masters of their trade, against sides that were in awe of the sheer mountain of skill and talent that was facing them. He himself was always a top notch batsman, but nowhere near to the gentleman in the ‘Gentleman’s Game’. The truth is he was handed a champion team by his legendary predecessor, and also received tutelage from the master. Whereas our captain worked from the ground up. He actually built a group of players that could be depended on to perform on international stages. Players that had nerves, and could hold on to them, even to the very last one. He put on an icy cool exterior that was never confused, never flummoxed, never worried, never angry, even if the world around him was falling to pieces. That personification of composure was what gave his troops the confidence to pull out victories out of hopeless situation, something our team was not known to do. If history should ever judge the greats who toiled as captains, I daresay it will stand on a desk, and call out to the Indian team captain as ‘O Captain! My Captain!’
Through all this, one player, who had crossed every line, every statistic, every hurdle had carried on with the dogged determination of a mountaineer on a mission to conquer mount Everest. He was not playing for himself, for that would be too easy. He carried on his shoulders the expectations of an entire nation. In a nation that treats its favourite game as a religion, its favourite son was its God. Considered in a class of his own, even by his own equals, he was slowly finding a new level of performance, even at this late stage in his long walk. The early part of the new millennium was not very kind to him, and there was a repeated speculation about his eminent retirement. He never found it necessary to reply back. His own famous words after a match winning effort succinctly summed up his attitude towards everything – ‘When someone throws stones at you, you convert them into milestones.’ He found his second wind, and he just blew everyone away.
It’s 4 am on April 3rd, 2011. The feeling hasn’t sunk in. I was on the street and it was mayhem, chaos, insane. But none of it was disturbing. It all felt right. It all felt natural. I shouted slogans and hooted so loud I must have torn my windpipe. I bled blue, needless to say, but such was the intensity that it must have healed by itself. In any case, I was too busy reveling to notice it. If any country has malicious designs on my country, just look at the celebrations today. This is the united India. We are an unstoppable force when we charge. We are an immovable object when we shield.
In a nation besieged by corruption, social inequality, religious divide and political opportunism, there is one game that rules us all, one game that binds us . One game that makes Gods out of mortals, and followers out of fans. One game that makes a nation realize that we PROUDLY bleed the same blood, red or blue. One game that makes us insane, makes us laugh and makes us cry. One game, that makes us dream, and lets us live them.
For what are we, if we can’t dream, or live them?