By all means, it was a weird match. Underdogs Pakistan and favourites India seemed to have swapped identities. Weird, not inexplicable, and certainly not unexpected. India pretty much dominated the ICC Champions Trophy and were by far the better side going into the final. In the summit clash, they faced Pakistan, a rag-tag bunch of supremely talented but unpredictable cricketers against whom we enjoyed a 13-2 lead in ICC events before Sunday.
Ahead of the match, under a very level-headed coach and an inspirational captain, India were confident. And why won't they be? Pakistan had last beaten them in an ICC tournament back in 2009. India had clinched seven consecutive head-to-head encounters including a comfortable 124-run win in last week's league-stage match. Not even the most optimistic of Pakistani supporters were willing to wager against India.
What unfolded on Sunday demonstrates one more time the truth about clichés. As author and commentator Arnab Ray explained beautifully in his blog, Pakistan played a 'high-risk, high-reward' game, and were lucky to be rewarded.
As any professional outfit would, the Virat Kohli-led Indians adopted a more conventional approach. They stuck to their strengths, tried to minimise errors, take less risks and ended up short. For a change, they were comprehensively outplayed. That's okay. That's cricket. This is why the cricketing cliché of 'game of glorious uncertainties' still holds.
I have not a shadow of doubt, however, that other things remaining constant, this Indian side will beat Pakistan eight times out of 10. The Indians are thoroughbred professionals — disciplined, tactically superior, mentally tough and have a wealth of experience. Everyone is allowed to have an off-day in office and to India's misfortune, it turned out to the final against Pakistan. That the favourites do not always win is sport's biggest allure.
It is extremely natural to feel disappointed and disheartened at the loss. Like our sub-continental brethren, we are massively invested in the sport.
However, by breaking TV sets, hurling abuses at players, leveling ridiculous allegations and floating cosmic conspiratorial theories, the stereotypical Indian fan has shown yet again that when it comes to cricket, his/her reaction is not at all different from the antics of an average Pakistani or a Bangladeshi fan. For members of this perennially outraged and ego-fragile species, cricket is a jingoistic expression of steroid-fuelled nationalism.
1)All the players of Indian team should be banned by govt from playing cricket coz they have sold themselves n pride of India. #IndVsPak
— KRK (@kamaalrkhan) June 18, 2017
Tweets such as these or reports of "angry fans" burning posters or pelting stones at Mahrendra Singh Dhoni's Ranchi residence tell us that despite our aspiration to be taken seriously among the league of powerful nations, we remain just a 'small nation with a large population' in attitude.
We burn in righteous indignation when Chinese state-run media claim mock us as "petty" and "immature" but through our actions, we regularly prove them right. Our oversized, hissy fit after losing a game and personal attack on players reveal a nation deeply insecure about its position in the world — one which has outsourced its self-confidence to cricketers.
Why must our cricketers carry the burden of our frustrated nationalism each time they take to the field? Why should they be made into scapegoats for our failures? An emerging economy that is among world's fastest, a population of over a billion (with millions of wealthy, influential Indians spread across the globe), world's third-largest army, a huge domestic market, wielder of global 'soft power', a massive, influential, wealthy diaspora are apparently not enough to satiate our feeling of jingoism that we need to character-assassinate our supremely successful cricketers each time they lose a match.
Indian cricket has come a long way from the summer of 1983 in England. Our cricketers deserve a better set of fans.