I realize most people have already moved on, but I wanted to add another small comment — grand title above aside — about India’s 1-0 series victory against the West Indies. A number of commenters brushed off my ‘meh’ framework to explain India’s approach to dominance, confusing it with a laid-back attitude and lack of commitment to the game. Maybe so, or maybe not, but the debate does evoke larger concerns about modernity and India’s new-found confidence.
Yes, I know it’s always very dangerous to try and tease out larger lessons about Indian society from cricket. I still cringe when I think about an article I read a few years ago that attempted to argue that Greg Chappell’s disastrous and overbearing tenure proved the uselessness of command-and-control socialist economics. A silly way to make a large point. But ask yourselves: why exactly are Indian fans so angry about a series victory, that too one pulled off with a second-string team? Part of the answer relates, I think, to the particular anxieties of modernity — if we live in a new age wherein the average Indian can believe that life is not to be endured, but remade and refashioned to his liking, why should anyone accept the draw?
I just finished reading Anand Giridharadas’ new book India Calling, a lovely book that examines this dilemma (in other contexts) at a deeply personal level. So, for instance, there’s the up-and-comer from a backwater Indian town, a self-educated man climbing the social ladder in a relentless confession of ambition. On the one hand, this approach to life deserves applause; the improvement over the caste-based identities that have ruled for millennia is obvious. But on the other hand, there are complications, like the constant feeling that one could always strive to do more, do better, do faster.
Perhaps when people see the Indian team accept the draw, they see a tacit confirmation of mediocrity, of viewing life the way our elders used to — full of uncertainty, risk and sacrifice. There’s also a feeling, I suspect, of wasted potential. After all, the Indian team has been blessed with a bounty of batting talent over the past two decades, from Dravid to Ganguly to Tendulkar. With the sun setting on their careers, there is a legitimate question about whether or not the Indian cricket team used the batsmen’s talents to their fullest extent. Or did we basically waste the first decade of Tendulkar’s career?
There are two anxieties to untangle here: 1) Did we waste potential? This is a tough one for any Indian to answer, given the huge level of poverty that persists in the country. To be an Indian is to recognize the cruel realities of our world. But there’s also 2) a worry that we have not fully mastered modernity, and our success is not assured. What happens when Tendulkar and company leave? What happens if we make the wrong decisions now, and are bogged down by their consequences? What if we “lose” the 21st century? Things may have been easier and simpler when the draw was Indian cricket’s primary goal, but here we are — supposedly confident, ready to tame destiny…Will 1-0 be enough?