The Indian cricket team left for the West Indies last night for the World Cup, and if television coverage of this minor event in the tour schedule of an itinerant cricketer is any indication, we can brace ourselves for two months of pumped-up nationalism in a very naked lunge for eyeballs.
“Ladega tho Jeetega,” (those who fight, win) screamed Aaj Tak, which, along with its brother channel Headlines Today on Sunday, sent 15 correspondents to tail the 15 boys in blue departing for the sun-kissed shores of the Caribbean, like they were going off to the Iraq War or something.
“Jeet jayenge hum,” was the rival mnemonic on Star News.
“Cricket ka bukhaar,” was Zee News’ honest admission.
“Mission World Cup,” said the sober Doordarshan.
“Cricket Kurukshetra,” said the new kid on the block, TV9.
And as Shankar Mahadevan and Sukhvinder Singh sang, as Priyanka Chopra injected some oomph; as Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan sent their “shubh kaamnaayein“, as Usha Uthup penned another nursery school rhyme—we need to ask what makes us all suspend our balance and proportion, and all at the same time.
This, the day after the day after Congress was losing and BJP was winning state elections. This, the day after the day after Lalu Prasad Yadav‘s Railway Budget. This, the day after the day after Ottavio Quattrocchi was released by an Argentinian court. This, the day after the fifth anniversary of Godhra. This, the day of P. Chidambaram‘s Union Budget.
True, cricket is more fun than all these events put together. True, cricket can be an expression of national identity for a desperate people. True, television is only mirroring the excitement of the average aiyya on the street, who wants his side to win even if he doesn’t have a meal to eat. True, in a competitive media world TRPs is all that count.
But is it news—news of the nature that deserves carpet coverage to the exclusion of all else?
And this, 16 days before the team plays the first match… 16 days before it wins its first match. And this, as if we are the only side in the World Cup which deserves to win, as if all the other sides are only there to help us do it.
What is it about sport—more precisely cricket—that makes us expect so much as a matter of right? To see one channel kid after another talk of “our” and “hamara” team, you wonder if any of them even know which end of a cricket bat they should hold.
Related link: Why should India win all the time?