In any sport there are three types of fans. One, who are so passionate about the game that they basically live the sport. Second, those who follow the game, keep a track of the score, but are not bothered much if the results are not in their team’s favour. Then there’s the third kind, the ones who don’t know much about the technicalities of the game, but a certain enthusiasm creeps into them when a world event is right around the corner.
In my humble opinion, it’s the third kind of fans which make a world event in any sport successful because the die-hard fans will even follow an inconsequential match, but it’s the enthusiasm and the passion of the lesser knowledgeable fan, which makes sure the world event is what it is.
Indian cricket lost a considerable number of fans in the second and the third category owing to a lot of factors, but the major factor was that the players of the golden generation like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Saurav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan and lastly, Virender Sehwag had called it a day.
Such was the emotional connect with these players, that even the fans of the third category felt sad and emotional, and the ones in the second category moved to the third category. Kids of the generation of 2000’s felt their childhood was now officially over, and there was no one left in the Indian Cricket Team who could take the status of a ‘hero’, a ‘demi-god’ or could just unite the nation to cheer for him when he was putting his skills on display.
The average Indian cricket fan had given up on Indian cricket due to the corruption circling Indian cricket, lack of victories overseas, batsmen being reduced to flat-track bullies and the team lacking a single player who could save or win matches from nearly impossible situations, or it was thought.
The Indian team had started to develop a few stars again, and was still a force to reckon with at home. Amidst all this, the World T20 approached and India were the favourites to lift the title. This was enough to get all kinds of fans excited about the team again, but it was not enough to sustain these fans. Following the shocking loss to New Zealand in the opening game, it became all the more difficult to win the fans back, and more importantly keep their love for the game intact.
Facing Pakistan in a must win game, Virat Kohli played one of his most special innings on a difficult batting track and it’s impact was similar to Tendulkar’s innings in Centurion in 2003. It was rather fitting that Tendulkar was in the stands when Kohli took India to victory and in many ways all fans felt that the baton of Indian batting was now handed to Kohli by Tendulkar.
Kohli had already played many great innings before. In fact the very first innings in which he batted at the no. 4 position, he scored a century against South Africa on a difficult Wanderers pitch, but only the most diehard fans followed it. This was different, the whole of India, personalities from Bollywood, politicians, bureaucrats and the general public, everyone took notice.
It was step taken in the right direction towards restoring the love again of the Indian cricket fan.
Kohli didn’t have a great outing against Bangladesh, but the match itself was so thrilling that India celebrated like one when Bangladesh fell short. The nation was excited about the match against Australia and was looking forward to an India securing a place in the semis (read, a Virat Kohli show).
Australia began like they had in the finals of 2003 World Cup final, and sinking the hearts of Indian fans, but the Indian bowlers pulled it back and India had to chase 160 to win. Most people felt that India had the upper hand at the halfway stage and would coast to a win against the Aussies.
But needing 67 off 6 overs, with a struggling Yuvraj Singh on the crease, and the top order letting the team down again, many felt that this was the end of India at the World Cup.
Kohli played an innings of absolute class, highlighting why he was rated very highly around the world, and why he was the master of chasing. He combined Tendulkar’s ability of finding the gaps, Ganguly’s aggression and Dravid’s reliability to anchor one of the best innings in the history of World T20, if not all T20 internationals.
He ran as if his life dependent on it, pressurizing one of the best fielding sides and as commentators would say, was ‘calm as a cucumber’. The innings was reminiscent of Tendulkar’s classic in Sharjah in 1999, and gave Indians the belief that they had one player, who could challenge the odds against the best, on any wicket and in any situation. The nation rejoiced as if the World Cup was already won, and a part of it because everyone felt that no matter what comes ahead, King Kohli would bring the trophy home after missing out the last time in Bangladesh.
However, just like it happened in the finals of 2014 WorldT20, West Indies also put India into bat like Sri Lanka and ensured that Kohli didn’t get do what he does best, chasing. Kohli again, like in the finals of World T20, was lucky again initially, but this time he made sure that India reached a competitive total. This time he went one step further in efforts to make sure that the team wins, by breaking a crucial wicket off his very first ball, as he was brought in to replace the poorly performing Ashwin and Jadeja. He had certainly become India’s golden boy, but not so much that he could defend 8 in an over.
Images of Kohli being distraught and being consoled by the likes of Ashish Nehra, brought back images of Tendulkar after the loss against Pakistan in Chennai ’99, against Australia in Johannesburg 2003, against Australia in Hyderabad 2009 and Sri Lanka in Kolkata ’96.
Kohli became one player with whom Indian fans could connect their emotions, more than feeling for Team India being knocked out, as they felt for Kohli’s single handed batting efforts go to vain.
The Indian cricket team fans didn’t get the result they wanted, but they found a new hero. And with that, their lost love for the glorious game of uncertainties, once again.