The Sweet Pain of Watching India Play South Africa


The Sweet Pain of Watching India Play South Africa

Illustration: Akshita Monga

One of my major resolutions for 2018 was finding a way out of relationships in which I felt constantly let down and disappointed. The first thing I did was delete the number of the shady Chinese place down the street, and the second was to take a pledge to never again be a witness to India getting pounded on yet another overseas tour.  

I have given up more sleep for the Indian cricket team than I have for any girlfriend. I have stayed up late in the night to watch India getting hammered in England and I have woken up before my grandfather to watch India being trampled in New Zealand. If there is one thing I have learnt after following cricket for more than 15 years, it is that the Indian team is like that lousy boyfriend who just cannot do long-distance relationships.

I’m not sure why the Indian cricket team mostly sucks at overseas tours. But the chances of Indian winning on foreign soil are as low as winning the lottery. The last time India won against Australia, England, South Africa, or New Zealand on their turf was in 2014, when Ishant Sharma took 7 for 74 against England in the second innings at Lords. I felt like a proud father whose son had cracked the GRE and secured admission into a top foreign university. That was undoubtedly a historic moment, but the utter ease with which the India team surrendered itself in the next three matches of that series doused all the enthusiasm. It was the equivalent of eating tangdi kebab for starters followed by a vegan meal.

The build-up to every one of India’s away tours is exactly the same: Fans trick themselves into believing that the team is better prepared, the players are more experienced, and that it will definitely be an even contest this time around. But it all comes crashing down just a couple of days into the first Test match. It’s a bit like making elaborate plans for your date, telling everybody how you are going to get laid, but then ending being stood up.

I have given up more sleep for the Indian cricket team than I have for any girlfriend.

After all these heartbreaks, it should be easy to stick to my New Year resolution and quit watching India play cricket overseas, but it’s not that simple. I grew up listening to cricketing greats like Tony Greig, Richie Benaud, Geoffrey Boycott, and Michael Holding commentating, which made me sell my soul to the game at the tender age of 10. They spoke so richly and with so much passion that I am sure Michael Holding could speak about picking his nose and the audience would listen with rapt attention, giving him an ovation at the end.

Giving up overseas cricket would mean giving up these greats which is why I always find a glimmer of hope somewhere in my heart. It is the same glimmer of hope which tells me that PM Modi will go back on his development agenda one day.  

I am torn apart if I should follow the upcoming India-South Africa series or not. India will show promise in the beginning only to falter during the crucial stages. But there is always this space for surprise which makes me wonder what if India turns decades of history on its head and finally wins a series abroad? Even though the chances of that happening are the same as me inheriting Mukesh Ambani’s wealth, I have a feeling I’ll be glued to the TV.  Watching this series is going to be like drinking throughout the night knowing fully well there is a terrible hangover waiting for you the next morning. But you know what they say about drunks and cricket fans — you gotta do what you gotta do.