The sternest indictment of Australia’s performance during their limited-overs tour of India, which continues with the first of three Twenty20 Internationals in Ranchi on Saturday (October 7), didn’t come from the press, Australian cricketers, Australian fans or even Harbhajan Singh.
It came instead from the people at the pulse of the city, at the Ranchi Club:
“Yes, we’ll watch, but cricket is no fun anymore. Where’s the competition?”
“We already know India will beat Australia. It’s like how India v Bangladesh was long back.”
“It’s not just about Ranchi, most Indian fans feel this way.”
“India has just reached a point where no team can really challenge them. I’d rather watch the football.”
This isn’t just a dig at Australia. There is a wave of ennui — maybe just a temporary one — washing over Indian cricket.
India are the No. 1 side in ICC’s Test and One-Day International rankings. If they win the T20Is 3-0 and then get the better of New Zealand in the T20Is later this month, they could very well become the top-ranked side in all three formats. Something that’s only happened once before, South Africa ticking all three boxes, although their reign lasted only three days from August 28-31 in 2012. You would think that reaching cricket’s Promised Land would bump India’s percentage on the Happiness Index.
But, according to psychologist Daniel Wann who studies the causes and consequences of being a fan, “team success is kind of like the icing on the cake”. And right now in Indian cricket, the cake has become almost exclusively icing.
In 2017, India have won 17 out of 23 ODIs played with one match abandoned. There were only five losses, which includes one against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final, but people in Ranchi say that it didn’t affect them as it would have in the past. They explain they were extremely upset by the 2007 World Cup exit, less so by the semifinal defeat in the 2015 World Cup, and the post-mortem conducted after the Champions Trophy defeat lasted just a day.
Meanwhile, India have won six of the eight Tests played this year. There was one draw in Ranchi and one defeat in Pune. But last year India didn’t even lose once; they notched up nine wins and three draws.
Brian Lara said recently that for Test cricket to stay relevant, draws need to be scrapped. It’s a point of view shared by several cricketers. But they’re missing the wood for the trees. In 47 Tests in 2016, only seven were draws. That’s just under 15%. In 33 Tests completed so far in 2017 (excluding the ongoing South Africa v Bangladesh and Pakistan v Sri Lanka matches), only three were draws, or 9%. Draws aren’t always dull affairs. Some can be absolute nail-biters. What is almost always eye-gougingly tedious, though, are those crushing wins which have become à la mode in Test cricket. A trend set by India nowadays.
“We’re gonna win so much, you may even get tired of winning. And you’ll say, ‘Please, please. It’s too much winning. We can’t take it anymore. It’s too much.’ And I’ll say, ‘No, it isn’t!'”
That was Donald Trump ahead of the presidential elections in USA. If only Virat Kohli had warned the Indian public accordingly.
The boredom of winning is also rooted in the fact that everyone loves an underdog. It’s why we went nuts when Bangladesh beat Australia in Dhaka and when Windies beat England in Leeds. Paradoxically, the less likely a team’s chances of winning, the more we tend to root for them. The people in Ranchi say they can fondly reminisce about the Sachin Tendulkar years, where there were far more heartbreaks, but this past year for them where India have become the top dog is just one manic blur.
Interestingly, this is happening at a time when the FIFA Under-17 World Cup is being hosted by India. The Indian football team was ranked 173 in 2015 and is now 107. Yet, the excitement in India about football has reached fever pitch. Even the television channels in restaurants in Ranchi are showing football rather than the highlights of some match India won.
Manpreet Singh Raja, the former president of Round Table India and current member of the Sports Authority of Jharkhand, explained that Jharkhand is slowly inching away from cricket to football. He believes the lack of competition for Indian cricket at the moment has played a role, but also mentions that the government is keener on nurturing football.
Fret not, Jharkhand State Cricket Association. This won’t affect your coffers on Saturday.
A big crowd will still turn up at the JSCA Stadium — if the two men waving Indian flags wildly there in the rain on Friday is evidence — and the mood will be as lively as ever. It’s the weekend and it is a T20 game, after all. When local legend Mahendra Singh Dhoni is in action either behind the stumps or in front, you can also be sure that the decibel level will increase. There will be clapping and cheering and more flag-waving if India win.
And if India lose? Well, the people at the Ranchi Club, along with countless other India fans, will merely shrug their shoulders.