Whenever we win a cricket match that is deemed sufficient cause for wild celebrations all over the country with bearded pundits tapping the side of their noses and nodding sagely while delivering a homily on, “young blood and killer instinct”, to anyone prepared to listen. At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I just don’t get it. Patriotism is my first refuge - clearly demonstrating I’m no scoundrel - but flag waving in a stadium has very little appeal. As far as I’m concerned the guy who said, “If we win, great and if we lose, big deal,” is a philosopher who could hold his own with Nietszche.
It’s not just cricket: when Amrithraj played Jan Kodes in the 1974 Wimbledon final, the armchair experts said he was, “too nice a guy, too much of a gentleman,” to stand a chance. When he lost after being two sets up, they promptly patted themselves on the back saying, “I told you so.” Try saying, “It’s only a game”, and you will receive a mouthful, ‘We will never progress because of this loser mentality.”
One intellectual of my acquaintance, drawing deeply on the strength of his (week) long stay in Pennsylvania solemnly informed me that, “Americans have a life and death attitude to competitive sport from the cradle upwards. Little League baseball, basketball, tennis…nothing is just a game and it is this well-honed killer instinct that makes them successful when they motor down the busy road of life.” “You are absolutely right boss, this killer business is genetically encoded at birth and they practise regularly in Vietnam, Korea, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact they enjoyed the game so much in Iraq that they’ve invited themselves back to Iran for Christmas”, said a wag who had overheard the exchange.
CNN carried a story about a Little League baseball dad who got so mad with the umpire for ruling his son out during a “friendly” game that he bludgeoned him to death with, what else, the bat, if that’s what it’s called. I think it was a Louisville Slugger. South of the border, a crazed Colombian soccer fan executed the right back of the national soccer team for the unpardonable crime of scoring a self-goal during a World Cup semi-final. This year Colombia didn’t send a team: they preferred to take their chances with cocaine. Confusing sport with national pride and substituting a love of the game with jingoism is sheer lunacy. It starts off with relatively innocuous cheerleading and then before you even get a flash of frilly knickers, it’s a free for all.
Take the All American, hamburger-apple-pie, gridiron sport called American football where the game is incidental and bloodshed is the purpose. Coaches philosophise along the lines of, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” Poor Madhu Sapre; when asked the Mother Theresa question in the Miss India pageant, instead of mouthing the usual platitudes about the starving masses, she stepped up to the plate and said that we need more sports stadiums…how’s that for killer instinct? Unfortunately for her, the judges felt otherwise.
At the recent Asian Games in Djakarta, bridge was declared a mind-sport and India had a proud moment when we won the gold medal. The team did a lap of honour in the games village, their pride slightly diminished when the roly-poly Raju Tolani who won the bronze bristled indignantly when a fellow competitor giggled on seeing “Athlete” emblazoned on Raju’s track suit. Apparently he mistook him for the coach. But seriously, why do we start hand-wringing over the fact that Viswanathan Anand and Pankaj Advani are our only bona fide world champs. This killer instinct win-at-any-cost approach is a pain in the you-know-what.
My distaste for it stems from the days when I played galli cricket with a rich kid called Arthur who owned the bat, ball, gloves and stumps. If Arthur got out first ball, he would leave in a huff taking the equipment with him. I managed to find a killer solution: I told him he was our star player and sent him in to bat last.