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Of emotional logic and cricket

By Surjit S Bhalla
March 08, 2003 15:41 IST
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The recent World Cup  India-Pakistan match was one of the most enjoyable, and most relaxed matches that I have witnessed.

Enjoyable because of the mastery of Tendulkar, an innings comparable to the one played by Gavaskar in the Bangalore Test in 1987 -- also against Pakistan and one which India narrowly lost by a few runs.

It took me a while to recover from that heart-break. So why was I relaxed just the other day? Because I actually did not mind Pakistan winning, indeed, I even wanted them to do so! Why?

India were already in the Super-Sixes, and it would have been  nice to have them there along with Sri Lanka.

The players, on both sides, apparently  thought similarly. I guess they have munched enough kebabs, and drunk enough beer with each other, and cursed each other enough, to be the best of friends.

Certainly no sign of a war, let alone a religious one.

In striking an unhealthy contrast, the common Indian reaction, boldly displayed on TV, was that this was the mother of all finals, that it really did not matter what happened in other matches, as long as India won against Pakistan.

In the  evening, a years supply of fire crackers celebrated Ram's victory.

Both before and after, there was enough religious jingoism to make even Bush blush. Even otherwise liberal and secular commentators joined in the holy war.

On the grounds, Indians were in scarce supply, but Hinduism was not. Spectators were in South Africa not as Indians, but as saffron-clad Hindu gladiators. Look, I love India and cricket just as much as the next person, but why were my emotions so different?

What is wrong with me? Nothing.

This is an increasingly globalised world where national boundaries are becoming irrelevant. This phenomenon makes enjoyment of matches difficult, as it blurs emotions and confuses preferences.

(All the confusion is for who to support after the support for the home team).

Today, how does one enjoy matches, who does one support?

One cannot give up on a tournament after the home team has lost; if one did, the fun of sports will disappear for its spectators. The ad agencies cannot face that possibility, and nor can most of us.

All of us men know, no matter what match, or what sport, that there is an automatic ordering that takes place, an ordering crucial for the enjoyment of the match. The testosterone induced juices flow, no matter what the occasion or sport.

To not have such an ordering is to miss out on all the fun. (Of course, once betting gets legalised, there will be different preferences, but an ordering nevertheless.) So the question remains --  on what basis are preferences made?

My hunch is that this ordering comes automatically to most men; if one has to think of which team to support, one might  as well not watch.

And if the preferences are automatic, they have to be based on 'logic.' In this case, the logic is emotional, and no, there is no contradiction there.

The basis for such logic? Emotions, but logical ones. There are explanations, connections. It starts with basic instincts -- support for one's family, extended family, and then the rest.

Within a family, there are siblings, good friends, cousins, extended cousins.... Thus, just as it is 'normal' for a North Indian to support Pakistan, it is equally normal for a South Indian to support Sri Lanka as her number two team. And by the  same logic, for a Bengali to support  Bangladesh as his number two.

This is not a politically correct ordering; worse, one can be accused of ethnic racism. But is it fair to dub emotional rankings with the 'racism' brush? If not the above preference, what is more normal -- that an Indian supports Australia as his number two team?

But have you actually met anybody who answers this description? Yes, and it is certain that that person has spent a fair amount of time in Australia -- and then it is quite sensible. And logical because there is the issue of shared experiences, shared memories, common friends, common family.

But if that is understandable, then why should a North Indian not root for Pakistan, a people with whom one not only has a shared present, but a shared past of thousands of years. The language is the same, the kebabs are the same, the dreams are the same. Sure, we have fought wars, and split up, but that's what brothers of ten do.

In my emotional ranking, West Indies comes after the countries in the subcontinent. The family logic dictates that it should be England, but I believe I am part of mainstream Indians in supporting 'strangers' in West Indies.

And  not because they have  produced some of the world's  greatest cricketers -- so has Australia. It is because they are part of the Third World, that they are not white. There, I have said it.

The mere fact that the West Indians are this side of brown makes me support  them; and the racism charge does not bother me one bit -- because race has nothing to do with it. But ahead of Brazil, I was supporting Senegal in that other World Cup.

There are three ordering principles at play -- blood, shared memories and Third World sensitivities. There are no additional criteria.

The final ranking, based on emotions, is as  follows: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Indies, South Africa (after the end of apartheid), England (several members of the team are of Indian origin), New Zealand and Australia. A World Cup final between my most loved and most hated team -- I guess I will really enjoy.

Emotional rankings are not useful in business -- only the price matters. But such preferences are terribly relevant for politics.

Applying the same rule, one is liable to support one's regional mate before supporting one's caste mate. After that, all other things being equal, maybe religion, and after that maybe race.

If the Congress party wants to know why several Indians would vote last for Congress, they should find out why there are not too many Indians supporting Australia (in the final against India).

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