A remarkable story of resurgence then came about, with Sarfraz Ahmed’s young team rallying to reach the summit, and conquer it.
As Team India met with humiliating defeat against arch-rivals Pakistan in Sunday’s Champions Trophy final in London, skipper Virat Kohli, whose squad carried the vastly exaggerated expectations of over a billion Indians, put things in perspective, saying “we just lost a game of cricket”. Kohli and Co. aren’t to blame for the jingoistic hypernationalism built around cricket, where Team India has usually lorded it over Pakistan, with just three defeats in the Champions Trophy amid 14 wins in ICC multilateral events. The latest loss, bucking a trend that included a win in the league encounter, may have been specially galling as it was built up as war minus the shooting in typical hyped-up nationalism with sport as the vehicle. Such hyping of emotions in a nation now confusing patriotism with nationalism at a time of rising Hindutva comes with inherent risks of deflation of the national mood when defeat looms on the field.
No sporting encounter should be a test of nationalism — even if sport now represents a modern definition of loyalty — from the tribal loyalties of club games to the fierce jingoism of international encounters. Such is our obsession with cricket that a record-breaking 7-1 win for India’s hockey team over Pakistan at a venue only miles away from London’s Oval the same day hardly registered. Sport is all about the day’s performance, and Sunday simply wasn’t India’s day at cricket, after Kohli did the logical thing in choosing to chase a target. In hindsight, it’s easy to say setting a target is the better option in a key encounter like a final. It was simply India’s turn to play very poor cricket, like Pakistan had in the league game. A remarkable story of resurgence then came about, with Sarfraz Ahmed’s young team rallying to reach the summit, and conquer it.
Appreciation of Pakistan’s rise, much like the cornered tigers Imran Khan spoke of 25 years ago when his team rose like the Phoenix from defeat at India’s hands in a first-ever meeting at an ICC event, should be possible without losing perspective. But Pakistan’s proxy terror and its hitmen’s barbarism in beheading victims at the border or disfiguring their faces makes it hard to see anything in complete isolation. Ideally, sport should be delinked from politics, but given the scale at which things tend to get exaggerated even in sport with Pakistan, it’s best that India restricts itself to sporting ties at multilateral events rather than hanker for the normality of bilateral sporting ties. It ill behoves us to behave like a dwarf democracy in equating sport with a test of patriotism. But a sense of detachment like Kipling’s, when he wished us to treat victory and defeat as twin imposters, appears to be an emotional impossibility.