By Rahul Desai Jul. 13, 2019
For my best friend, who lost his mother recently, the World Cup became an antidote. With every Team India victory, I believed that its only purpose was to make my friend feel again. But when the team crashed out, we sensed an ending. It reminded us that the pain of losing a loved one is real – nobody could, and should, take it away.
Dear Virat Kohli,
You must be hurting. Losing is tough. Losing as favourites is tougher. “45 minutes of bad cricket” and the dream is over, you said. But I’ll be honest: I wasn’t surprised on Wednesday night. I wasn’t surprised with you, your coach, your wicketkeeper/mentor, your chief selector. I saw the cracks long back. Most of us did. Journalists did. You trolled them for pointing it out. It wasn’t 45 minutes, but four indecisive years that ended your – our – dreams. You built your team to accommodate an MS Dhoni way past his prime. You willed your bowlers and openers to camouflage the middle-order flaws. You sent in Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya to rebuild the innings rather than finish it. You failed when it mattered. I almost wish Jadeja hadn’t played that lone hand; a 100-run loss might have prompted the cleansing of an entire system and mentality. I can go on and on. There is no end to post-mortems in India. Ask the Class of 2007.
But let me tell you why I really wept after the semifinal. Let me tell you why it hurt me like no defeat ever had. It had little to do with the sport itself.
My best friend, who I’ve known for over 30 years, is one of the most passionate cricket nuts in the country. He is a good man, a family man, a younger brother to me. His unhealthy investment in cricket, though, always worried me. He sees hope in Indian team performances when nobody else does. He imagines Cup-winning scenarios that not even you would. He is also, like you and me, a huge Rohit Sharma fan. We watched the India-Australia match together, despite living in different cities. We spoke about his upcoming trip to England; he had bagged tickets to both the World Cup semis. We watched you establish yourselves as the team to beat on Sunday night.
On Monday afternoon, his mother passed away. We were all shattered, but nobody more than him. For the next week, I forgot that you existed. I forgot about India, fantasy leagues, love, aspirations. All I wanted to do was pick up his pieces. All I wanted was for him to smile again. When he cancelled his England trip, a part of me died a little. He had always turned to you guys when the chips were down. If cricket doesn’t rescue him this time, what will? He stopped watching the matches. I returned home, worried about his mental health.
It reminded us that the world is still very much human, very much fragile, and not controlled by an upper force.
And then, something magical happened. Rohit Sharma scored a century against Pakistan. I received a text message: “Mom has blessed him.” I think he smiled a little. I’m not one for spirituality, but I believed him. She really had blessed him; he was the one batsman that encouraged her to comment on the game. He was the one batsman that, she knew, made her son irrationally happy. At that moment, when I looked up at you and the Boys in Blue on screen, you stopped being cricketers to me. You became a medicine. Jasprit Bumrah became a messenger. Jadeja became the caring mother who would call up her son every day to ask him if he had eaten lunch. KL Rahul became her giggles when he and I, her two adult children, would mock each other’s lifestyles. Mohammed Shami became the kind woman who laughed at my juvenile humour, and taught me that healing people through craft – through words or surgical instruments or bats – is the ultimate joy. Rohit became a doctor whose last operation might fix her son’s broken heart. Team India became divine.
Rohit Sharma scored three more centuries over the next five matches. He broke records. You won games. With every victory, I believed that your only purpose was to make my friend feel again. To make him laugh and cry and hope again. She was speaking through you. Slowly, he emerged. Every morning, we would discuss the knockout scenarios, briefly forgetting that he might have spent four more days with his mother if not for our India-Australia experience. We criticised MS Dhoni, we marvelled at Bumrah, we wondered when you, Captain Virat, would explode with an inevitable century. The Cup was blessed, don’t you get it? It was written in his stars.
And then Wednesday happened. It wasn’t meant to happen. I was livid, sad, scared, everything at once. He deserved the World Cup, nothing less. He deserved the possibility that she would touch an entire nation. Was I to believe that, just like that, she stopped talking us through our grief? Was he to believe that, just like that, you were playing cricket again? You had no right to promise so much and take it away. As I saw you sat in a press conference pinning everything on 45 minutes, I wished you knew what was at stake. I wished you knew that you had the power to make us forget the worst 45 minutes of our young lives.
Over the last three days, however, something has changed. My anger has dissipated. I have begun to understand why you did what you did. I am even somewhat grateful to you today. You see, when my friend and I spoke after the team crashed out, I sensed a change. I sensed an ending. We were hurting, yes, but you reminded us that the pain of losing a loved one is real – nobody could, and should, take it away. There is no escape from it. For a few weeks, we had even started to believe in God a little. Your defeat, in a way, made us realise that she has truly disappeared. We couldn’t cling to any of you anymore in the hope of keeping her alive. It reminded us that mortality is absolute. It reminded us that the world is still very much human, very much fragile, and not controlled by an upper force. You woke us up. You gave us closure. You ended our film.
If you had gone on to win at Lord’s on Sunday, it would have convinced us that the universe broke its rules and contrived to cure us. It would have been an answer. But sometimes, there are no answers. And by losing to New Zealand the way you did, you set us free. You set her free. I hope that one day, we can meet you and thank you for the last 40 days. I hope that you keep playing cricket instead of answering prayers. I hope that you win and you lose, and you keep making us question our faith. I hope that hoping isn’t everything.
An eternal fan
A film critic (Film Companion) and columnist (The Hindu), Rahul Desai writes about everything cinematic under Mumbai's hot sun. When he isn't writing, you can find him losing in Fantasy League Sports, or exploring obscure countries to identify locations of his favourite films.