19 November 2023. Crores of people watched in shock and silence as India lost the World Cup final to Australia after a fantastic win streak of 10 matches. Streets, homes, and the stadium, though packed with people, were covered in a quilt of silence as we watched the Indian team lose despite the brilliant display of sportsmanship, effort, and team spirit. Eyes were moist and hearts were heavy, seeing tears in the players’ eyes in spite of trying so hard.
The loss was followed by a series of posts, reels, memes, and whatnot on social media. And, to say the least, the shock still hasn’t quite worn off. The wound is still fresh in the minds of all, fans or not. However, what was even more evident was a noticeable shift in the attitudes of the common public in the reception of such a vast defeat on the home ground.
Indian fans are known for many things. But sympathy and empathy haven’t been one of them. We have been notorious for being less than receptive to our players’ efforts unless it has led to a win. To jog the memory, think of stone pelting on Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s house, immense trolling of athletes, threats, and cheap remarks on partners and spouses for bringing “ill luck”, among so many other instances.
Surprisingly, the posts, reels, memes, and videos this time were not those of trolls or hatred, but those supporting the team and their families. They were expressions of appreciation, support, encouragement, and sympathy. This noticeable change in attitude can be seen as a perception of unity among the citizens. There were memes, but with a genuine humour component, making light of the situation. There was hardly any expression of religious enmity, with people coming out in support of players for their merit, not their background. This evident shift is rooted in the fact that many sports like kabaddi, football, badminton, etc. have started getting their deserved recognition. Cricket, although still a mega phenomenon in India, is now not the only sport with a huge fan following. Players like Sunil Chhetri and PV Sindhu share a similar fan following as that of Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma, if not the same. There has been a realization that a lot of time, effort, and people go into the making of a sport. A player is not an individual entity, rather, they are a collective effort of hard work, patience, and the sacrifices of not only themselves, but also their families, coaches, mentors, and all the staff.
There was not only a shift in personality but also a noticeable shift in the image of India as a host. Cricketers of all teams were given exceptionally warm welcomes, even those of supposedly “enemy” nations. There were dhols, aartis, and dances to welcome them. They were hosted by influencers and celebrities and took part in amazing content creation (special heart eyes for you, Team New Zealand and Team Netherlands). People thronged to get a glimpse of their favourite players, going above and beyond to make them feel at home. Cities were cleaned, infrastructure organized, and the World Cup seemed like quite a festivity.
This overall change, albeit surprising, has been a pleasant and much-awaited one. People have started accepting the fact that even the players are after all humans, and it’s okay to not be the best every single day, and that any achievement in any sport is a gradual process, thus it’s normal that sometimes you win some, and sometimes, you lose. Maybe this loss was needed to bring out the best of humanity and bring about a change in the image of India from hooliganism, as often portrayed, to that of gentlemanism. Cricket indeed is a gentleman’s game, and we have proved it right.