Anirudh Menon5 minute read
Virat Kohli cuts a dejected figure after the Cricket World Cup finalAlex Davidson-ICC/ICC via Getty Images
Long before the final, the home team was declared champions. In fact, the entire World Cup was a procession leading up to that ceremonial culmination of a final, convincingly winning one group stage game after another. The anointing itself in a stadium purpose-built to demonstrate the power, the global weight of the entire nation.
The fans were fully behind this carnival and celebrated their own greatness. The number of spectators increased with every game. Politicians clamored to stay in the same frame and bask in the reflected glory. Foreign writers raved about the host’s best players; All teams gave in at the mere sight of her. Everyone knew they were the best.
Against them was a team that had fought its way to the game, a team that might as well not be there if you asked anyone in the huge stadium, in the huge country. The final was attended by the largest ever crowd for a game of this magnitude and began like home team games, with a loud bang and a stadium where normally accepted decibel levels rose by the minute. Until at some point it wasn’t anymore. The noise subsided; The silence grew and when it was over it was deafening. Their team hadn’t done much wrong, but in the end it was the others who had the gold medals around their necks and the trophy in their hands.
This is not about Ahmedabad, India or even cricket. That happened in 1950 at the great Maracanã in Rio Di Janeiro, on the day Uruguay defeated Brazil to win the World Cup.
Brazil were great in this tournament: Zizinho, Jair and Ademir led a free-playing side that had scored 21 goals in five games and conceded just four, and no one really saw anything other than a Brazil win in the final. Except their opponents. Uruguay were underdogs, but their team was full of match-winners – Juan Alberto Schiffiano, Alcides Ghiggia and Obdulio Varela were among the best players in the world at the time – and they had, of course, won their first World Cup. They were a team that fought until the end.
The Brazilian fans had made the big mistake of underestimating them, dismissing that pedigree and forgetting their pure will to fight; 73 years later, Indian fans did it even worse: they underestimated Australia in the Cricket World Cup final.
Look, you can write as many pre-game eulogies as you want – just like the mayor of Rio did in 1950: “You players who in less than a few hours will be hailed as champions by millions of compatriots! You who have none.” Rivals across the hemisphere! You will defeat every other competitor! You, who I already greet as victors!” – but you only win when you win; and that can only happen when time runs out on the field.
Over the years we have seen this in every single sport: Indian cricket itself made it to the West Indies in 1983, Usain Bolt lost his last World Cup race, Michael Phelps was beaten in his last individual Olympic race by a 21-year-old. Alexander Karelin, a year-old student from Singapore, lost to an unknown American wrestler in his last Olympics in 2016 for the first time in 13 years. The “Miracle on Ice” for one team was an absolute disaster for the other. Greece silenced Portugal and its golden generation in 2004. The list goes on… favorites lose, heroes fall, and sometimes those who are dismissed as underdogs are never really that.
Australia are now six-time men’s ODI champions; The most predictable name on this beautiful trophy, but the beauty of the sport also lies in the fact that the predictable is so hard to predict.
Introducing Australia, the 2023 World Champions!Getty Images
India were great during the tournament, 10 out of 10, unmatched, unrivaled, but it still wasn’t enough. Because in Game 11 Australia was better. That makes it a bitter pill to swallow: And no one puts idols on pedestals faster than a bitter, angry sports fan. Just ask one of us the 1950s Brazilian vintage.
What happened to the greats of that team – now forgotten amid the avalanche of glory that followed over the next decade and (much) more, a nation hastily pushing its pain and the authors of it from the collective consciousness – is absolutely not happen to it. Simply because there is too much cricket and these players are just too good to ignore, neither for any (IPL) club nor for any country. One would think that the average sports fan has also evolved, learning to put themselves in the shoes of their heroes, understanding their pressure and their pain, and understanding how much more it hurts them than anyone else…except heartbreak and empathy rarely align.
For the average Indian cricket fan, 2023 should be different than 2003: over the past two decades, their board had taken complete control of the game, their players had become the absolute best in the world. Surely the pain of the past would remain in the past…Ahmedabad must have felt worse than Johannesburg.
But just as disasters happen, miracles also happen. Be it a wild evening in Barcelona in 1999 or a loud evening in Istanbul in 2005, where two teams enjoyed time and pressure as friends; Whether it’s Glenn Maxwell deciding that one leg is enough to score a double hundred on a pitch where the second-highest Australian score was 24, sport isn’t just about pain. Without that hope of unexpected fame, it knows it won’t be the great thing it is.
Eight years after football’s breakthrough in Brazil at the Maracanaço, Pele, Garrincha and Didi launched one of the greatest sporting giants of all time. Eight years after Joburg, a top team led by MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Sachin Tendulkar took India to heights of fortune that the nation had rarely achieved together before (or since).
India will host the next World Cup in eight years and there is plenty and more reason to hope.
But there is no pattern in the benefits sport confers; It’s chance that makes the sport, not the WWE. When Brazil hosted its next World Cup in 2014, the country expected regrets for 1950… but what it got was Belo Horizonte and the humiliation of a lifetime.
At the end of the day – most athletes understand this because they are who they are – all fans need to remember one thing: sports will always have the last word on laughter.