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Snarl of the winner

Snarl of the winner
Team India players celebrating the seven-wicket win over Pakistan in the ODI World Cup match held at Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.

CHENNAI: To both cricket purists and fans, the India vs Pakistan match in the World Cup on Saturday was a disappointment. The even contest between bat and ball that cricket romantics love did not happen, nor did the fan get his fix of adrenalin.

Pakistan’s batsmen caved in and its bowlers were easily tamed by the Indian batsmen. As a match, the first between the traditional rivals on Indian soil since 2016, did not live up to its billing and will soon be forgotten.

What will be remembered, however, is the atmosphere of jingoism surrounding the match, which no responsible stakeholder, neither the BCCI nor the game’s commentariat, did anything to defuse.

Right through the buildup, during the match, and in its aftermath, we were witness to an extraordinary mix of bullying, insults, and mockery of the visitors by India’s raucous social media warriors that took the pleasure out of the game.

Jingoism is not new to India-Pakistan cricket encounters. In the first Test match series between the two teams in 1952, crowd trouble erupted when India lost a match in Lucknow. The 1978 series in Pakistan was held in a volatile atmosphere with the crowd chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ as Pakistan’s fast bowlers subjected the Indian batsmen to bodyline bowling watched on by biased umpires. Every encounter since then, even those held in Sharjah, has been marked by the same ugliness.

Prior to last weekend’s game too we were witness to the brewing of the same witch’s potion: In the weeks prior, the match was billed as ‘war minus the bullets’ in media promos. Some recently retired players, coached by digital marketing agents, stirred up emotions with snide patriotism in their posts and commentaries. Social media became battlefields for loons on either side to engage in murderous oaths and loathsome insults. A Pakistani TV presenter’s old tweets were dredged up, and she fled India fearing for her safety. Then a travel company took out an astoundingly stupid ad in the newspapers offering tour packages to Pakistani fans conditional to only three possible outcomes of the match: A defeat for Pakistan by a mile, a street and an inch, but no victory.

During the match, held in a gladiatorial stadium named after the Indian Prime Minister, game organisers whipped up spectator jingoism by playing AR Rahman’s Vande Mataram on loop, triggering a massive singalong that soon descended into insults of Pakistani players. Dismissed batsmen returning to the pavilion were barracked with slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ by spectators.

There is something called home advantage in a cricket match. It is often quite normal, if not always nice. But to subject an opposition team to relentless hostility and mockery is to destroy the spirit of the game. Not only does it intimidate the opposition and cramp their play, it makes the Indian team dread the consequences of losing.

The jingoist sports fan is an avid follower when the going is good but not a nice person when it is not. The cricket lout is as likely to laud Virat Kohli to the skies for a majestic innings against Pakistan as to issue death threats to his family if he dares to defend a Muslim team-mate’s performance in a losing cause. We have seen both scenarios happen in the recent past.

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