There were two surprising things about the reaction of some Indians to the cricket team’s defeat in the World Test Championship (WTC) final.
One was that they denounced the wild-eyed aggression of Virat Kohli and praised the quiet grace of Kane Williamson, the captain of the victorious New Zealand team.
The other was that even in these nationalistic times, where anything critical about India and anything complimentary about other countries is seen by the narrow-minded as unpatriotic, many Indians admitted to feeling happy for New Zealand.
We are a land of loud news channels, loud politicians and loud entertainment. Listening to music or watching a show without earphones in public is normal for us.
We are a people that can manufacture urgency, noise and a crowd where there is no need, such as when a plane lands. Barely have the wheels and tarmac kissed each other, on comes the phone.
The precise moment the plane stops, we undo our seatbelt faster than Clint Eastwood his holster. Despite the bloating from the in-flight samosa and sandwich, we are up in a flash to open the overhead bin. Then we yank out our bag, exposing love handles and butt cracks, and stand in the aisle when we could very well stay seated with a whistle on our lips.
Never is an Indian more agile and athletic than when a plane lands. Usain Bolt will be slower starting out from the blocks.
We are a culture that celebrates jugaad, when in fact it is just a romantic label for taking shortcuts and is one of the major reasons that has held the country back. We also justify obnoxious behaviour as something necessary to get ahead, and as the symbol of ‘new India’.
The sensible are in the minority here. Will that number increase if we have learnt to appreciate Kane Williamson? If it does, Williamson deserves an award from us. Maybe an invitation to Indian weddings for a year.
Where does that leave us on the subject of passionate celebrations in sports? As dignified and heroic as Williamson looks with his Alpine explorer beard and understated demeanour, it would be boring if everyone reacted to victory like him. Imagine Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a great goal and putting his head on the shoulder of the goalkeeper. Or Bolt winning the sprint and not performing his ‘To Di World’ sign, lighting up the stadium with his exuberance and charisma.
At the same time, we don’t want hyper-aggressive, snarling, arrogant celebrations and those that appear to mock the opponent. That’s off-putting. There is vanity in Ronaldo’s routine, but he does not usually snigger at the opponent. It is a celebration of his own excellence. While with Bolt it was just joy. He was a happy camper who was also very fast and he radiated his zest for life when he wrapped the Jamaican flag around his shoulder and held his finger up.
The right degree of exultation is a delicate balance for an athlete to achieve. No doubt about that. All sorts of emotions burst forth at the moment of triumph. There is excitement, pent up anger, relief. To calibrate your reaction in such a powerful moment is not easy. But it is possible. At no time has this been clearer than now. At Euro 2020, after the Christian Eriksen episode, many goal scorers celebrated a bit but then quickly held their arms apart to indicate a toning down of celebration.
But no athlete has as consistently maintained this delicate balance as Rafael Nadal. He is a vigorous fist-pumper and teeth gritter who throws kung-fu kicks in the air and works the crowd. At the same time, he is never disrespectful of the opponent. Sometimes, not even when the opponent is disrespectful towards him. When Lukas Rosol, a big, in-your-face Czech player, upset Nadal at Wimbledon in 2012, Rosol flung his racquet into the net after winning. Throughout the match, there was tension between the two players. And yet, as Rosol celebrated, Nadal picked up his racquet and handed it to him.Top Indian cricketers, administrators, organisers and sponsors of today need to look at how they conduct themselves, not just on the world stage but in all professional interactions. Only then can we call ourselves the world’s number one cricket nation in the full sense of the term.