It was a truly remarkable win. It was the kind of victory that strikes awe into the hearts of rivals and makes poets out of prose writers. The kind that every takes every cliché in a sports movie beyond its limits of credulity and still has a surprise or two up its sleeve. One that has so many heroes and no protagonists, at least not in any conventional sense.
If Australia played with the memory of being able to intimidate any team into submission, India played by not remembering. That they had lost almost a full team-load of their top players. That they were fielding a bowling side had a combined experience of 3 test matches. That they were playing at the Gabba, the place where international teams come to die. That they were without services of their captain who also happened to be the best batsman in the world. That they had just a few weeks ago, lost humiliatingly by posting their lowest total in all their 88 years of Test history.
Australia should have won the series easily. But India bounced back by winning the second test and then pulled off a truly gritty draw against all odds in the third. There were meant to lose in Gabba and there would have been little shame in that. But the young team forgot to read the script.
There is nothing sadder than a bully who can’t back up his words. One ends up looking foolish, and more damagingly, pathetic. Australia tried everything in their book, from petty sledging to physical intimidation leaving no tailender unscathed, they injured several batsmen, causing a few to have to drop out of the series and battered a few others. Nothing worked.
But the most remarkable thing about the Indian victory was something else. It was achieved without a trace of anger. This is what made the victory so sweetly special. No chest thumping snarls. No expletive-peppered send-offs to departing batsmen. No need to lipread what they were saying after reaching personal milestones.
Answering sledges with wit, rather than rage. No signs of resentment when things went the other way. Instead, a total focus on the game, one ball at a time.
Which is why this is a victory that the world, including voices in Pakistan and Australia wants to embrace. This is what winning at sport should be about. India, which is not the world’s favourite side as it is seen to use its commercial muscle unfairly far too frequently for the liking of other teams, made it impossible to be disliked.
Today’s anger is a sign of yesterday’s festering frustrations. It draws on reservoirs of resentment, memories of feeling small or neglected, it claws at barely healed scars of memories of injustice, real and otherwise. And the Indian teams of the past, even when they have achieved impossible victories have tended to come from a place of suppressed anger. Sreesanth’s mouthing off on in South Africa in 2007, Sourav Ganguly’s shirtless demonstration of triumph in England, Virat Kohli’s routine of swearing passionately whether in anger or celebration, have all been decoded as signs of an India not afraid to give it back.
The anger was easy to understand and share. The sense of being at the periphery, of never quite getting due credit for its achievements, of suffering at the hands of the deeply internalised racism that is seen to colour all international engagements with the West is widely shared and acutely felt. Today however, there is little reason to feel that sense of injustice. India pretty much runs international cricket, and the team has done consistently well across all formats. Today that anger is a vestigial relic of the past, for truly the Indian has very little to resent.
Much of the exultation around the Indian victory in Gabba lays it at the doorstep of a New India, one that does not take things lying down. The ‘ghus ke maaro’ attitude is now being seen as the new way India does business with its rivals. The ‘don’t mess with India’ sentiment that is doing the rounds on social media is easy to understand. For this victory is truly a sign of a deep resilience that did not exist before.
But to see this as a sign of an aggressive new India is to misread the true import of this victory. It is special precisely because it is not rooted in anger, but in quiet self-belief. Because it is not about a gifted individual, whether Sachin or Virat, or even Ganguly Sehwag, Bumrah or Dhoni, but about the entire team, most of who were rookies. It was not expressed loudly, by pumping oneself up with adrenaline, but by staring down the task, not the opponents.
There is a difference between strength and aggression, and this win is important because it illustrates just how big that difference is. In today’s India, we mistake angry posturing with strength. Aggression is easy to adopt when one is strong, there is nothing particularly admirable about bullying the weak and cowering before the strong. Strength lies in knowing what one is capable of and acting with quiet confidence, not in sloganeering. It is not as if aggression is not occasionally useful, but it is only a small part of the process of being genuinely strong.
What this victory holds is the prospect of an even newer India. One where every individual, whichever walk of life he or she comes from, has the opportunity to make a difference. Where we do not cover up our fears and insecurities by puffing ourselves up or threatening the weak or those that are different. All of us, regardless of class, political ideology or ethnicity, felt something truly special at this victory. What united us was something universal, something that ran deeper than all our divisions. That is as good a starting point as any for a genuinely new India.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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