Ever been through a bad break-up? It’s usually the morning after when the realisation that a relationship has indeed ended hits hard. Even the most committed morning person feels sick to his/her stomach. Everything around is just filthy, sloppy, icky. Go back to sleep if you want. It won’t help. Memories come flooding back. You check your phone and nothing. All that’s left is a huge void. It’s nasty. With time, the wounds heal but the emptiness of that next morning is excruciatingly painful.
The exact same emotion is being felt by a billion Indians. Hearts have been shattered and dreams left unfulfilled. The energy is low. Airports are eerily quiet and jerseys have come off. There isn’t much movement on WhatsApp chats either. Monday blues have never been bluer. Workplaces have granted leaves on the account of mental health. A sombre mood has enveloped the entire nation after the heartache of Sunday evening, where the Indian team came tantalisingly close to winning the World Cup, only to return empty-handed. This one is going to sting for a long time, way more than 2003 and 2019.
Sport is cruel. It is the only profession where deserving individuals/candidates may not reach the ultimate summit. The difference between real and reel is not a blur here. How else do you explain the most dominant team in the tournament coming up short against the second-best? Or the highest run-scorer in World Cup history ending up with nothing more than a consolation prize he would gleefully swap for the ultimate glory? Or the highest-wicket taker achieving the milestone in almost half as many games? Endings in sport are seldom perfect. We all dream of it. We all want it – no more than those 15 guys. Crushingly enough though, Rohit Sharma’s India learnt this lesson in the most unfair way. The stars were aligned for something special but it just wasn’t meant to be.
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As we enter the 36th hour of India’s loss, and as things settle down, let’s take a moment to acknowledge and appreciate the brand of cricket Rohit and his team has played, and the oodles of joy they’ve given us. After ages, Indian fans felt they were representing the best. Reveling in a feeling of being near-invincible. Winning 10 matches in a row is an extraordinary accomplishment, almost the equivalent of the New York Yankees going through 19 straight games undefeated. Those wins were also the most comprehensive and convincing. The dressing-room medal ceremonies, Virat Kohli’s 50th century, Rohit’s explosive starts, Mohammed Shami swinging and bouncing out oppositions… this World Cup was full of jaw-dropping moments and treasured memories.
India’s last two ODI World Cup defeats concluded with two of the most gut-wrenching images. MS Dhoni’s run out in what turned out to be his last match for India, and now Rohit Sharma struggling to hold back tears and quietly walking back in his final World Cup game. He has unofficially retired from T20Is and will most certainly not be a part of South Africa 2027, by when he’ll be 40. And if that’s how he was destined to go out, he can be mighty proud of it. That Rohit went from being trolled for his captaincy, fitness and form to being cheered on with ‘We love you Rohit bhai’ as he quietly disappeared into the dressing room captures the countless and unknown lives he touched.
“Burst these crackers once we win the World Cup,” said Rohit after winning the Asia Cup. “All I see is the World Cup… that big golden globe perched on the three pillars.” This is how much it meant to the India captain. You had to be inhuman not to feel bad for Rohit when he walked up to address the post-match presentation ceremony. He looked broken, defeated. His eyes were red; face drained of colour. It was going to be a tough next few minutes. When he spoke, the words did not come easy. Sunday night will hurt. A lot. Rohit, captain of an Indian team that reached the final of a World Cup for the first time since 2011, and threatened to shed the baggage of the past at Ahmedabad, lost. He has been a part of previous Indian sides; he has been defeated earlier. But this… this was pain of a different kind.
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Rohit had expressed that among the numerous motivations driving India’s desire to win the World Cup, one significant factor was Rahul Dravid, a man of qualities known only to the divine. That Dravid showed up just an hour after a soul-crushing final defeat, following two years of hard work, and still responded to all kinds of questions with honesty, dignity, and even a smile. You could sense that a question about India being ‘fearful’ and ‘timid’ visibly irked him, yet Dravid responded in the same manner he has played his entire cricketing journey — with a straight bat. When he assumed the role of coach, this is what he set out to achieve — to build a team that would follow in the footsteps of Kohli and Ravi Shastri and aim for success in a memorable World Cup. And indeed, it turned out to be a truly special World Cup.
Questions such as will Dravid renew his contract as India coach, whether Kohli and Rohit will play a World Cup ever again are fleeting around. But now is not the time to dwell on it. It’s time to celebrate these two giants of Indian cricket for the bundle of happiness they’ve brought us. Most runs in a single edition of a World Cup, most centuries ever in the history of World Cup… what a tournament they’ve had. It’s time to get behind those faces that have stayed glum since Sunday night. To egg them on. Make them known that our emotions, like theirs, will mend. Despite the defeat, this team continues to receive unwavering love from a fanbase that historically doesn’t take long to change its stance. If that isn’t a win, we wonder what is.
In the coming week, the players will require all the support to lift themselves from this sea of sadness. Many have partners to lean on and as for the rest, there’s us. Shoulders will slump; it will be painful. But you will rise, and we will rise with you. My team, our team. Your performance in this World Cup has been truly fantastic, and let no one tell you otherwise.