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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 49 December 2, 2023

Cricket, Rat-Miners & Indian Secularism! | Nilofar Suhrawardy

Saturday 2 December 2023, by Nilofar Suhrawardy


What an irony, recent days have been witness to extreme forms of Indian secularism. While the rat-miners need to be hailed for using their expertise in rescue of 41 workers trapped beneath the collapsed Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand for 17 days, religious identity of these “heroes” is also being given considerable importance. Irrespective of who they are, the fact that priority was given by these and those having organised their role in rescue of trapped workers need to be considered substantially. This is certainly suggested by reaction of rat-miners after having succeeded and that of workers rescued. Clearly, irrespective of communal tones bordering on religious extremism being exercised, secularism still prevails and prospects of it being eroded easily seem to be fairly limited. At least, this is suggested by this incident.

Nevertheless, at the same time, one is tempted to pose the question of Indian secularism being at stake when nature of Indian cricket frenzy is deliberated upon. Undeniably, it is regrettable that Indian public has displayed lack of sportsman spirit following defeat in the recently concluded Cricket World Cup Finals. Sadly, the same also reflected a certain extremism openly visible in behaviour of crowd at various levels. And this naturally raises questions about these sections holding secularism at stake. In addition, more than a week has passed but the country in general still seems to have not fully registered this reality and that of defeat. With respect to cricket, Indian public was probably too over-confident about winning the World Cup. Nevertheless, this doesn’t explain the “failure” to accept victory of the Australian team and defeat of the home team. Equally dismal is the fact that practically no importance is being accorded to performance of Indian team being better than that of all other teams but of course that of Australia. Besides, some credit must be given to India for having reached the finals. What if it had not? Batting, fielding, bowling as well as performance of team as a whole led the Indian team to the finals.

Despite this, its defeat has led to speculations being voiced on where did the team err? Did it fail to make sufficient runs or was its bowling not up to mark or did the fielders err? In all probability, such questions are likely to be deliberated upon for quite some time. But perhaps some importance needs to be given to past record of Australia as well as that of India in comparison to other countries. Undeniably, Australia stands far ahead of all. Since the World Cup started in 1975, being held every four years, Australia has reached the finals eight times, losing twice. It lost to West Indies in 1975 in England and to Sri Lanka in 1996 in Pakistan. Its recent victory against India is its sixth.

Cricketing record of India in the 13 tournaments of 50-over World Cup places it ahead of all countries except of course Australia. It has participated in all 13 tournaments held since it began in 1975. It may be noted, West Indies which won the World Cup in 1975 and 1979 failed to qualify for 2023 World Cup. This was the first tournament without participation of this team. Thirty-two countries participated in the qualification process from which 10 were selected for this tournament.

Equally significant is the fact that India has made it to finals four times, winning the cup twice and ending as a runner-up twice. Paradoxically, India lost the finals last time to Australia only. The match took place twenty years ago in South Africa. While the Indian team was led by Saurav Ganguli, Ricky Ponting was the Australian captain. It seems the 2003 history was repeated in 2023 with change of players and places.

India won the World Cup for the first time in 1983 defeating West Indies in England. Kapil Dev led the Indian team and Clive Lloyd was captain of West Indies. Under the captaincy of MS Dhoni, India won the cup again in 2011 after defeating Sri Lanka led by Kumar Sangakkara. The match was held in India. Certainly, all (Indian) hopes were pinned on India winning the cup this time for the third time but luck, fate or whatever eluded it. Clock cannot be reversed nor can what has happened and cricketing record be re-written as desired by Indian fans.

What is needed is reflection on where India stands, in comparison to other teams – except of course Australia. Only West Indies equals India’s record of having won the World Cup twice. But it falls behind in not being able to participate in all tournaments. The same may be said about quite a few other teams. Besides, while India has reached the finals four times, West Indies has made it only thrice. Thus, it has been a runner-up once failing to win against India in 1983. England has won the cup just once in 2019 and so have Pakistan (1992) and Sri Lanka (1996). England has been the runner-up thrice, Sri Lanka twice and Pakistan only once.

Against the backdrop of its cricketing history and that it made it to 2023 finals, the team should definitely be complimented for having reached this stage. The team as a whole- be it batting, fielding, bowling and most important was the team-spirit displayed as a whole- succeeded in reaching the finals and being a runner-up. It is equally imperative to take note of the team spirit rising up and above communally divisive barriers displayed fairly aggressively by certain extremist sections. The players did not let their sportsman-spirit be subject to these. Rather, they should be hailed for playing as an Indian team without secular spirit of their interaction and communication as true Indians and sportsmen being subdued in any manner by irrational behaviour of certain sections. Certainly, the latter has earned strong criticism from several quarters for having projected a negative image of the country and so forth.

It would be probably erroneous to assume that players were not aware about “negative” factors in “play” at various levels while the finals were being played and also throughout the tournament. Considering these factors, one is prompted to hold the Indian team in greater regard for not allowing their team-spirit as Indians and as players be subject to what perhaps sections of crowd appeared to be guided by. Sports is sports and so is cricket. It is not simply the question of putting in the best performance as simply players but also that of playing as a team, without the team-spirit faltering and/or being subdued by external factors. Thus, as mentioned, without doubt, the negative role of these external factors has earned strong criticism. It is equally imperative to accord some importance to positive side of the Indian team not having let themselves be subject to the same. While they lost the finals, they did not let their team-spirit stumble/falter or lose because of these extremist sections along negative lines. They did not win the world cup, but they should at least be credited for having made it to the finals. Yes, Australia won, but Indian team did not stand totally defeated and at all levels, certainly not when viewed in context of practically no sportsman spirit displayed by extremist sections throughout the tournament. The players did not let their team spirit and cricket place Indian secularism at stake. The same spirit was displayed by rat-miners!

(Author: Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. She has come out with several books. These include:— Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019); Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006))

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