India fans appreciate Edgbaston result was not just win for England, but one for Test cricket itself. That could change if their team lose next match, too
Mixed emotions for Virat Kohli's India could turn to despair if Lord's result goes same way
There can be nothing more difficult for a tribal sports fan than to watch a really good game that his or her team ended up losing.
One can be magnanimous towards the losing side and their fans after his or her team have won a game or a series or a tournament, especially if it turned out to be a good game or series or tournament.
But how do you react when your team lose? There is the sweet satisfaction of having watched something truly memorable, perhaps, but there is also the bitter disappointment of defeat.
Sample the recently-concluded Edgbaston Test, which England won after beating India by 31 runs to take a 1-0 lead in the five-match series, sparking well-deserved celebrations among the home supporters.
It was a topsy-turvy contest that could have gone either way (the chance of a draw was unlikely, given that the Test was going to be done and dusted in the first session of the fourth day of what is usually a five-day affair).
The match threw up several interesting narratives as well: Ben Stokes’ fourth-day, four-wicket haul in the fourth innings to give his team a much-needed win before he was to appear in court over a charge of affray; the rise of another England all-rounder, Sam Curran, who produced a man-of-the-match performance in just his second Test; and Virat Kohli’s heroics that nearly dragged India across the finish line and confirmed his coming of age with the bat on English soil.
There were those who, as England fans, exulted in victory. There were those who, as India supporters, raged on social media and criticised their team’s inept batting performance.
Then there were those who, as England fans, still managed to summon whatever pessimism they could muster from within to not feel satisfied, for reasons ranging from the logical (troubles with the batting) to the downright cynical (this is just a one-off, normal services will resume, and India will be back).
There were mixed feelings for Indian fans, too. Despite captain Kohli’s stellar performance, and the wonderful gift both teams gave to Test cricket by playing such a good match, they could not help but feel sad, angry and maybe even a little cynical about India’s display over the four days.
To be sure, Indians love Test cricket and appreciate a close tussle. Many of them did celebrate the fact that this was not just a win for England, but one for the embattled Test format itself.
That being said, Edgbaston had provided the tourists with their best chance of potentially winning the series. India’s tendency to start slowly in a Test series in England (read: losing the first match) has cost them in the past, as has been documented by this newspaper.
What a missed opportunity it was, too, considering the narratives that were being spun out before the first ball was bowled.
India were, and still are, the world’s top-ranked team in the five-day format. England’s recent fortunes in the long form were not great. The hot weather conditions in the country meant India’s batsmen would be greeted with dryer, friendlier wickets than usual. Stokes’ future was up in the air, courtesy the impending court trial.
The bowling had also clicked, with Ishant Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin ensuring their batting unit had a victory target seemingly within reach.
That India still found a way to fluff their lines makes defeat even more difficult to digest.
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For the past two years, Kohli has spoiled fans by leading the team to unprecedented success in all three formats on a sustained basis. But now, one cannot help but ask if his teammates – mostly the batsmen – have the same drive to win as their captain.
Where is the dum, or the heart, as former batsman Gundappa Viswanath is reported to have asked of young India cricketers many years ago?
This match, fittingly England’s 1,000th, restored in many a cricket lover the belief that the sport’s oldest format could yet survive the test of the changing times. But for many Indians who love their favourite pastime, even when it is played in whites, over five days and filled with tea breaks, there is a feeling of dread.
It could very well turn into despair if their team lose the next match, which gets under way at Lord’s on Thursday. This time, even if it turns out to be a close encounter, there will be none of the conflicting emotions that they are feeling now.
“Who cares if Test cricket is winning,” they are likely to say. “India are losing.”