World Cup’s final test: Do we know how to deal with defeat?
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World Cup’s final test: Do we know how to deal with defeat?

Almost everything that needs to be written about the World Cup final between India and Sri Lanka has been written − from Sachin Tendulkar’s dream of adding the most important piece of silver missing in his collection, to Muthiah Muralitharan riding triumphant into the sunset. The key word, of course, is almost. Otherwise I could finish the post here.

My point is: Does India (or Sri Lanka) know how to deal with defeat?

As Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni pointed out ahead of the high-voltage semifinal against Pakistan, it is after all a game and at the end of it, there will be only one winner and there will be one loser, too. It’s not for nothing that his leadership is much admired. I am not sure if he has read Rudyard Kipling or been to the centre court at Wimbledon where the British poet’s memorable line is enshrined:  “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same…” Dhoni, more than most, seems to live by that line but spectators too, need to toe it.

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India supporters cheer before the start of the Cricket World Cup semifinal match between Pakistan and India in Mohali, India, Wednesday, March 30, 2011. Pic: AP.

Of course, that isn’t easy. Ask Pakistan, where match-fixing allegations have raged after Shahid Afridi’s team lost to India at Mohali on Wednesday. Even a public interest litigation has been filed in a Pakistani court seeking transcripts of an alleged conversation between Afridi, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani and Interior Minister Rahman Malik. The plaintiff alleges that the match was fixed by the trio for political reasons.

Indian cricket is relatively clean and may not face match-fixing allegations. But spectator response to defeats has been disturbing in recent years. Okay, make it not so recent because one of the worst, and probably the most shameful in Indian cricketing history, came at the Eden Gardens way back in 1996, when Sri Lanka was winning the semifinal against India. Here is how Cricinfo describes what happened:

“At the fall of the 8th Indian wicket, sections of the crowd vented their disgust with the state of the match by setting fire to some areas of the stands and throwing fruit and waterbottles onto the field. The match was briefly stopped and when play was about to resume, the crowd again threw bottles at the deep fielders. The match referee stopped the game and the game was awarded to Sri Lanka by default.”

Mumbai’s crowd might be a whole lot different but many believe jingoism has risen sharply over the 15 years since that match and something similar could easily happen. That is why I think authorities should follow Wimbledon and flash Kipling’s great line on the large television screens at the Wankhede Stadium, and maybe Marathi, Hindi, Sinhala and Tamil translations too, so that the message gets across.