Sandeep Dwivedi Column: World Cup history shows fans forgive and forget if teams gives their best

Does the 1987 World Cup semi-final loss bother you? Kapil Dev’s trump card in the tournament Maninder Singh talks, ponders, interprets, philosophises and towards the end of the conversation answers the question. Graham Gooch sweeping, his mishits landing in no man’s land, India failing to score 45 from the last 10 overs and arguably the best-ever World Cup team to date failing to keep the Cup home.

The rewind is excruciating but it is timely and therapeutic. In days to come, India will get on the emotional rollercoaster again. World Cup history shows that there is a pattern to how fans react to India’s performance. It helps to be prepared. If the home team goes down fighting, however painful the result might be, the terraces are forgiving. It’s only when the meek surrender happens that the fans snap. That’s when the frenzy of expectations turns into a storm of anger and bitterness.

Go back in time, recall your emotions about the defeats of 1987 and 1996. There was disappointment, it was not infuriating rage to throw the remote against the wall or smash the television. In 2007, after the heartbreak against Sri Lanka in the West Indies, violence did cross the mind.

Back to Maninder, who with 14 wickets, had finished as India’s highest wicket-taker in 1987. He was just 22 back then, now he is 58. Post-retirement life didn’t turn out the way he would have wished. Maninder has spoken at length about his bout of depression, alcoholism and rumours of him being a drug user. The darkness has lifted now, he has found solace in religion and spirituality.

The question again: Does the 1987 World Cup semi-final loss bother you?

Freedom Sale

“A lot happened in my life for me to bother about it … if I had I would have been dead by now,” he says. You mean having seen far worse days, the memories of World Cup loss don’t bother him? Maninder is quick to correct. “No, no it still pricks. It doesn’t bother me, it pains me. We had a good, well-balanced team. We were a unit, we had a feeling we would win. There’s a ‘tees’ that keeps surfacing,” he says.

Piercing pain

Tees in Urdu means piercing pain from deep inside that keeps surfacing periodically. Bother is a mere strain, an everyday headache that an aspirin can subside. Tees is hurt for which medical science hasn’t yet found a prescription. Maninder mentions death again, this time philosophically. “Yeh tees nahi jayega, woh jaegi jab sharir ko aag lagai jayegi. (This tees wouldn’t leave, it will be there till death),” he says.

Though the Wankhede heartbreak of 1987 deflated the nation, it didn’t get etched in the minds of the game’s followers. Mumbai’s iconic ground isn’t connected to Gooch’s sweeps, it is about Ravi Shastri’s iconic line – “Dhoni finishes off in style. A magnificent strike into the crowd! India lifts the World Cup after 28 years!”

The next time India hosted the World Cup was in 1996. Another well-fought campaign would end in tears. Eden stood stunned. The fans didn’t seem to be cross with the team, they had gone blank.

In 2007, they were cross. India had failed to go past the first league phase. The team led by Rahul Dravid and coach Greg Chappell looked disjointed. Differences in the dressing room played out on the field. The team hadn’t put its best foot forward.

As India prepared to leave the West Indies early, the news from home wasn’t encouraging. The homes of players were being attacked. Restaurants owned by Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly were attacked, stones were pelted on Zaheer Khan’s home, MS Dhoni’s residence too had trespassers.

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In 1987 the fans weren’t that hostile. Maninder remembers bumping into those who appreciated the team’s efforts. “They would come to us and say ‘Well done guys you played well, you gave your best’. Thodi mann ko tasalli hoti hai (It does comfort the mind),” he says.

The World Cup taught a few life-lessons to Maninder. In the opening game against Australia, the spinner found himself in a tight spot. India needed 6 runs in the final over and he was at the crease. He scored a couple of twos and now India needed 2 runs to win. It was deja vu. Same opposition, similar situation, same venue. Just a year back, in 1986, Maninder was the last man out when Australia had tied the Test. There he had defended the ball and was out lbw. In the aftermath, everyone told him that he should have swung his bat. In 1987, he did. Maninder was out again, he had failed to pull off a win in a tight game one more time.

Years later he sees the lighter side. “Woh kiya toh woh bhi galat, yeh bhi kiya yeh bhi galat. (Defending also proved a wrong decision and also attacking),” he says. Much wiser about life he adds: “Things are not in your hand. You start to worry about it, you will fall sick. You can manage only those things that you can control. I am a firm believer in destiny,” he says. What’s written in the skies unfolds on earth. That’s a thought fans need to hold on to in coming edgy days of mad frenzy.

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