A couple of years back, India was on the doorstep of greatness in Test cricket - threatening to claim the #1 position, realistically and not on pirated editions of International Cricket Captain in desktops across the country.
I'd written a post back then, wondering whether we as a nation would be ready to accept this. And by that, I mean whether we, so given to berating our cricketers and giving steady business to effigy manufacturers, could deal with the fact that we were going to be the best team in the world.
And now, we've gone and won the goddamn World Cup. Bleddy. Now what do we do?
Let's rewind a little, shall we?
Indian cricket was like its politicians and its industry way, way back. Had its moments, but more often than not, provided ample fodder for angry armchair critics and cartoonists. And, as a consequence, not followed with too much fervour and passion. And then 1983 happened. Suddenly, we were the best team in the world... Supposedly.
It's still debatable whether the victory was a fluke, but there's no denying the ramifications it had. The imagination of a nation had been sparked. Kapil Dev's catch to send back Viv Richards was possibly the most important in the history of the sport, leading a chain of events, a shift in the center of power, commercialization, TV rights, and ironically enough for Dev, the Indian Premier League.
And now we were expected to win. Everything. We were (are?) an unforgiving nation. And moreso when individual brilliance goes to waste - part of the reason Sachin Tendulkar is the icon he is.
In the 90s, cricket exploded in terms of tournaments and money and as a result, India was at the forefront of world cricket. Matches were beamed into more homes than ever before and players came under more scrutiny than a pipette during a 12th standard Chemistry practical examination. During the 90s, India were a team that oscillated between brilliance and ignominy. More of the latter comes to mind, doesn't it? Think painful losses in the West Indies and South Africa.
It was fashionable to trash the Indian team. We surrendered to our fate - of the inefficacy of our pace attack, save Javagal Srinath and the odd piece of brilliance by a certain BKV Prasad. The inability to chase. The clear dependence on the batsmen (batsman?), the lead-footedness of our fielders, and the absolutely inexplicable record away from the womb-like comfort of home pitches.
We were a joke, and noone liked to remind us of this more than ourselves. In 1997, the thought of international cricketers coming to India to play a league was ridiculous not because we didn't have the money, but because we didn't have the respect. In our own heads. Insecurity and self-deprecation were the best forms of defence for a nation that probably came to expect too much, too soon. Fastracks to godliness and stoned houses were both equally probable. Rooms plastered with The Sportstar posters, and effigies burnt in public too. Screw the Sensex, the performance of our team was the true indicator of the nation. Australia and South Africa were the Gods - out of reach. Like when your crack garage band goes to a competition and sees the existing regional champions with their fancy Fenders and Korgs, you'd just stare and watch in wonder and trepidation - wondering when you'd ever get there.
All this seemed perfectly to script, till 13 March 2001. And then VVS Laxman happened.
And it happened again.
And then Dravid happened, a little later.
And then Sehwag too.
Sachin was still there.
Ganguly too. And Zaheer.
Wait, wait. Rewind. What the fuck was happening here? India, winning matches away from home? Our Indian cricket team, beating top-notch teams? Our India in a World Cup final? Our India having a bowler being spoken about as the 'best fast bowler in the world at present'?
No, that can't be right.
Who do we make fun of, now? We're still too insecure about ourselves to make jokes of other countries... Right?
All this is a little too heady.
Now we have noone to make fun of. Our cricketers may have active nightlives, but they're also #1 in both forms of the game and the fucking World champions now. You can't deny them a little fun and games if they can do that, can you? We turned our attention to Yuvraj, who was steadily competing with the MRF blimp. He responded by bagging the Man of the Series award. In a World Cup. For that, son, you can sit at Moti Mahal and hog away all day. Better yet, we'll have it delivered and sent to your home. And MS Dhoni. Dear lord, MS Dhoni. We made fun of his hair. He responded by winning everything winnable. #1 in Tests. And ODIs. The World Cup. The IPL. The Champions' League. The T20 World Cup. The last ever trination series in Australia. The only way he can add anything else to his cabinet is if India get relegated and win the ICC Associate Trophy as well.
Well, we still have Sreesanth, thankfully, but we're in a generous mood, and in any case, his skipper at Kochi Tuskers Kerala, who he so lovingly greeted on Saturday, should sort him out.
Who will bitter old uncles direct their tirade at now?
How can we make 'Haha, you can't even catch that? You're a shoo-in in the Indian team' jokes anymore?
This has been our culture, the thing that's got us by our own individual mediocrity over the last few decades. And now that's been taken away from us as well.
Make no mistake. This is the greatest crisis that Indian cricket has faced for a while. And the thing is, it doesn't look like it's going to go away anytime soon.
And I think, we as a country, ought to be thankful for that.
Now pray that our football team doesn't go and do something stupid like winning the 2014 World Cup.
This post is dedicated to two people without whom this victory (and many, many others) would have never happened. One was a commentator during the match. The other coached a team to the semifinals.