How many times have we said those lines to ourselves when we saw our team crash out of a prestigious tournament? I remember I first said that a decade back when I was a thirteen year old, fighting back tears as Lance Klusener ignited me with a hope with two thumping hits to the boundary to only lose his head and run for a single that never existed. It was ironic that the man who had dazzled us with his brutal hitting and a calm demeanor took us so near to the cup, and within the blink of an eye stumbled at the last hurdle. I went to bed crying that night, on my birthday. What is it about men that they get so involved with a team/sporting icon that they blindly devote their time, energy and the most crucial element - their emotions to them? In their favorite team's achievement they run around chest thumping like as if it were their own brother(s) who had accomplished a feat, in their team's downfall they let out a cry of anguish, their hands over their forehead wishing that it was all a bad dream, rebuking them as if they were their worst enemies, praying that all that had happened was just a bad joke.
Neither my mother and my brother nor would my cricket-ignorant friends would ever understand the level of passion I have for a bunch of men, my folks will never understand why I choose to break everything that I lay my hands on when they fail, nor could they ever comprehend why I run every time to the temple on a big match day, something which I had never done even for myself. All this and much more for a team which hails from Cape Town while here I am in Chennai writing out an obituary to their latest death they had suffered at a global event. "Choke" is what many of them might prefer to call it, and "Chokers" is what they will label those men as every time they step on a cricket ground during an international tournament. When there are a billion people supporting the home team with a vehement and scary jingoism that it floods twitter with their support, opinion and love to an extent that it crashes, and leaves you voiceless when faced with the shouts of passion of a billion people you end up wondering why don't you be one among the crowd? It's much like falling in love with someone out of your own community in a society, eyebrows will be raised, your loyalties will be questioned, they will say that you will be disappointed in the end, they will call you names and try to bully you in getting back to their side. But then, it's never easy to fall out of love is it?
Its 2 a.m right now as I am typing this, sleep seems to have evaded me for good, hunger and thirst crave me no more, and in another couple more hours I will have to go to work on a Saturday, something which I always abhorred but right now seems like the best option to get my mind cleared, and to get my heart in the right place. I won't lie if I told you that I had not prepared for this outcome, I was prepared like any supporter should be, I was prepared well in advance two months back for their exit. But as it is with sports, you always tend to believe in those miracle victories, and those "Cinderella Men" who pull a rabbit out of their hat to script a win out of nowhere. No matter how much you have trained yourself to prepare for failure, but it is when you see a group of men perform convincingly you always ask yourself with a whisper "Could this be it? Could this be our time?", a feeling crept into me with my heart turning romantic willing to believe in a miracle, while my mind remained practical and warned me to keep my feet firmly on the ground and reminded me of those heartbreaking exits in previous world cup editions, but in the battle between the heart and the head the head lost emphatically. Brain malfunction, mathematical errors, overconfidence have all played their part in robbing my team of the accolades which they so richly deserved. Every world event is a new one, yet the failures of the past come back to haunt them somehow. Maybe it is mentally embedded in their psyche which no psychologist can resolve, or it could be their lack of belief which contrary to what they say in their press meetings and tweets still exists somewhere within their head.
But still the question remains : Why is it that we celebrate a team and an athlete with an undying passion? Aren't those Man Uniteds, Chealseas, Federers, Nadals, Schumachers and Ferraris better off without our support? Its they who win the glory not us, its they who have their names printed on paper in the front page not us, its they who win million dollar endorsements not us, we don't even belong to the same nation as they, and the ones who do belong to our nation don't even know of our existence! Then why is it that we break down when we see them fall and why is it that we cheer them on when they rise to glory? Why is it that we vent our ire and exhibit our joy on twitter and facebook over them? Why do we waste our emotions over them? Why do we promise ourselves during every heartbreak that we shall care to hoots if they win or lose but promptly go back to paint our face with their colors and scream their names at the top of our lungs when they step out on the field on a match day? Why is it that we argue with family and friends or any Tom, Dick or a Harry on the street or a troll online who tries to tarnish our sporting heroes and questions their accomplishments?
There are no defined answers for the questions above. Maybe it's because of the ordinary lives we live that we try to see our dreams being realized by these extraordinary sporting icons. Life and sports are almost similar, except that sports has a lot more chutzpah and a feeling of epicness to it. The people who play on the fields represent all that we could never be, in this day and age where athletes are celebrated as modern day all-conquering gladiators and every sporting event is hyped up to be a battle royale between two teams, victory has been defined as something that encompasses a lot more than a glittering trophy, and a loss warns you of scathing remarks from news channels to the layman with a twitter account.
Those gladiators carry our aspirations, in their victory we see our pride and in their defeat we see our insult. We end up living a regular life that revolves around a nine-to-five job, we face intense pressure at work, sometimes we go beyond the call of duty. But then, no one celebrates us as a number-crunching excel-sheet-conquering software-codes-typing modern day wizard, nor as a life saving demigod of a doctor, nor as a smooth-talking suave marketer. There are no one-hour biographies made about us, we do not endorse any products, we do not get to romance any starlets or have our photos printed on the cover page of GQ, nor are we labeled as style icons.
Our sporting icons are everything that we are not - immortals, legends, and miracle workers so much so that every time they step out on the field we expect them to blaze their way to victory. But when something on the contrary happens, we realize how fallible they are, their aura seems to disappear, they appear ordinary like you and me, they appear more human. And we get disgusted with them, we tweet/talk rubbish about them and we question their lineage, we are in no mood to forgive. But in actuality, within our sub-conscience we yearn to be like them, haven't we all dreamt of racing away to a victory in a Ferrari, or hit a last-ball six to win a game with the crowd chanting our name and going delirious, or hitting a goal in the final minutes of the game to secure a jaw-dropping win? But in reality the closest we have come to being larger-than-life is while playing gully cricket when we tonked a 12-year old for a six and the aunty in the balcony saying "Tu to Sehwag jaisa shot mara re!". It's that brief moment which makes our heart beat with pride when we are compared with one of our sporting heroes.
So as a fan where do I go from here? I am thirteen no more so I haven't cried today, although I tried to squeeze a few drops out by contorting my face to various degrees but to no avail. I am also done chastising the opponents and also the players from my own team. With an egg on my face that may take some time for the stink to go off, I will be lying low with minimal tweets and facebook updates. I will abstain myself from cricket and anyone who speaks of it. The wounds are still fresh and will take time to heal. I will stay away from friends and not attend phone calls lest someone wants to add a bit of salt into my wounds, so even if they attempt to do so I would promptly ask them to go screw themselves or a member of their family (though in much harsher words). I would get back to blogging and watching sitcoms and movies which are far more predictable and far less heartbreaking and nerve-wracking than sports.
As the wounds finally heal, I shall come out of my shell. The very immortal men who have been reduced to fumbling men shall be resurrected to their iconic status in my eyes. And in another four years time I shall transform once more into that obsessive fan as I start to dream again with my eyes wide open, while my heart asks "Could this be it? Could this be our time?"