|Cricket win stirs Indian
By Sreeram Chaulia
A quarter of the way through India's initially nervy run
chase against Sri Lanka in the final of the
cricket World Cup on Saturday at Mumbai's
Wankhede Stadium, television cameras
zoomed in on a puzzling sight. Indian captain Mahendra Singh
Dhoni was sitting in the players'
pavilion, flashing a smile. To be smiling at such a tense
moment, when it looked like his team was falling apart with
two senior star batsmen dismissed, seemed absurd.
Was the captain smiling with resignation that the hopes of a
billion Indians of winning the game's biggest prize for a
second time - would be dashed? Was it bravado? Was it belief
in his abilities to craft a comeback?
The answer came as Dhoni walked out into the center of the
cricketing world's attention. From the
moment he took the batting crease, despite the formidable
Sri Lankan score his team had to reach, his body language
said it all.
His superlative, tournament-winning knock of 91 runs was
audacious, power-packed and devoid of doubt and anxiety.
After smashing a hapless Sri Lankan bowling attack all over
the park and delivering the final coup de grace - a massive
six to win - the poker-faced Dhoni hardly reacted even as
every village, town and city in India was erupting in a
frenzy of fireworks and celebrations.
Emotions did overrun the
team and their diehard fans in the ensuing
hours, but what stood out was the calm, collected,
methodical and courageous leader who had fought against the
odds with a sense of mission. Indians of all class, religion
and caste saw a loss being converted into a win through the
easier-said-than-achieved mantra: "do not give up." The
psychological boost is going to linger, as will dramatic
memories from the final.
The self-confidence that Dhoni and his teammates have shown
in a gruelling 41-day World Cup tournament featuring 14
countries is, in many ways, a reflection of the "India
rising" story. The belief that India deserves recognition as
an important global player has grown apace alongside its
gross domestic product rate over the past decade. Despite
being a post-colonial society plagued with the typical ills
of bad governance, institutional failures and iniquities, if
there was a barometer of India's optimism it has lately been
recording a steady uptick.
This "feel-good" sentiment despite daily frustrations has
not been limited to the privileged elite, but has percolated
deeper and driven a generally observable quest for
self-improvement and material gain. Travels into India's
poorest villages and most unhygienic urban slums show a
strange resilience and collective will to not just survive
but to rise out of misery and script a more hopeful future.
While the match was watched by an estimated 1.2 billion
people across the world, it was the masses of India who took
to the streets as the national team snatched victory from
defeat's jaws. The slumdogs felt that they had arrived.
It is facile to dismiss the nationalistic pride of World Cup
revellers across the length and breadth of India as a
media-manufactured false consciousness or as an opiate that
diverts the toiling masses from real-life miseries. The
alternative perspective is to view milestones in popular
sport as a cathartic force that ushers in feelings of
renaissance and deepens the grittiness of an upwardly mobile
society at a specific historical juncture in the linear
schema of modernization.
American economic historian Alexander Gerschenkron argued in
1962 that countries emerging from "economic backwardness"
needed ideologies that favored change to push older vested
interest groups out of their saddles and build new clusters
of power. In his simplified but fascinating correlation, the
more "virulent" the ideology favoring socio-economic and
political transformation, the faster the rate at which a
"backward" society could catch up with advanced economies.
The changed, egalitarian social composition of the present
cricket team in recent years (Dhoni leads
a team of superstars who have lower middle-class origins) is
a microcosm of the shattering of the aristocratic hold on
what used to be a quintessential colonial-style sport.
The infectiousness of the success of the team on the field
is rubbing off across the landscape of struggle in every
pathway of life in India. Historian Boria Majumdar has shown
in his classic, Twenty Two Yards to Freedom, how
cricket has been a means to cross class barriers and to
anticipate a democratization of Indian polity. These trends
have now picked up an unstoppable momentum after India's
second World Cup triumph in 28 years.
Caribbean-Marxist intellectual CLR James argued in 1963 that
cricket in the
Indies was a bitter legacy of British
colonial implantation but also an instrument of resistance
against it. The centrality of cricket in social
transformation and racial justice in Trinidad and Tobago was
captured in James' book, Beyond a Boundary, which
demonstrated that defeatism or pessimism that spread
cancerously in societies pummeled by exploitation for
centuries can be washed away through upward fortunes of the
nation's cricket team.
The achievements of India's current cricket teams in longer
and shorter formats are stupendous - the World Cup's one-day
matches comprise 50 overs - each over is six balls bowled by
one bowler - while
matches last days. But their external
impact on the Indian psyche will be earth-shaking. Spain
needed the soccer World Cup victory last year very badly to
boost national morale after its economy sank into a painful
India was in far less desperate straits compared to Spain on
the eve of its cricket team's miraculous and defiant date
with history on Saturday. But the drive to win and to expand
the realm of possibility has redoubled as a result of this
Eleven steely men in blue outfits have produced everlasting
memories that will fast-forward change and lift India's
spirit as it lurches towards its place under the sun.
Sreeram Chaulia is Vice Dean of the Jindal School
of International Affairs in Sonipat, India, and the author
of the forthcoming book, International Organizations and
Civilian Protection: Power, Ideas and Humanitarian Aid in
Conflict Zones (IB Tauris).
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