The biggest event in cricket has just got over in South Africa. Every cricket-loving person in the world would have watched the proceedings seriously for the past two months. We all saw a lot of matches, heard and read about players, matches, rain, Duckworth/Lewis, etc. No one talked about the majority, the millions of cricket-loving spectators in the world. It is high time that we share something about this group who spends money, time and energy to not only watch the game, but also cheer their teams with commitment and passion.
Now, let's take a break and think about cricket in India, where the game is considered almost a religion. I have been closely following almost all cricket matches for the past five to six years, and Indian matches in particular. What is more interesting and intriguing in Indian matches is the spectator than the game itself. It is an amazing rendezvous of various feelings and emotions. A palette of hope, belief, despair, confidence and commitment. I always wonder how a game can have this much serious and hypnotic effect on a group of people. The Australian great Steve Waugh once remarked that he doesn't even change his sitting posture when his team is batting, thinking that a slight change can be a bad omen. Perhaps, this feeling seems to be percolating into the collective consciousness of Indian spectators. Let's us try to deconstruct the psyche of an Indian cricket fan.
The who won the toss, who bats first types
This is a group of cricket fans who are not genuine observers of cricket as a game, but the hardcore Indian fans. These are the "intelligent" lot who conveniently cut the game into half, saving time, energy, and tension. Basically they spend only three hours to watch the game, that is only when India is batting. The other half is irrelevant for them. So after the toss, they decide whether to stay on or to leave. Many times I felt that this attitude pauses an existential crisis for the game itself. The only way to make this group watch a whole game is by organizing an India-India match.
The Sachin out, I am out types
This is a group of people you can see in any moderate cricket gathering. They are blind fans of Sachin Tendulkar and believe that the game starts with Sachin and ends with Sachin. They leave as and when Sachin gets out. These types of spectators had a solid setback only once, and that was in the NatWest Series final match against England recently. Still they continue to believe what they believed. It is interesting to note how a single player can be this much influential on the national psyche. It is not how or what Sachin plays. What is more important is that Sachin plays. People seem to get a feeling of extreme security with the very presence of Sachin in the team, something a baby feels in the presence of his/her mother.
The "they will never learn" types
This group is the most interesting. Throughout the game they speak everything against India. They are ultimate pessimists outside. They can't even tolerate one four hit by the other team. They would start saying, "India is going to lose easily", "these guys never learn anything", etc. Here is where the Freudian dream analysis is needed. What you are hearing throughout from their mouths is just the opposite of what they want. So the listener has to consider their language as a symptom and go back to their mind to extract the original meaning. You can only see them happy at the end of the match, and only when India wins the match.
The optimistic types
This bunch is a more sedate and patient group. They keep saying themselves, "Don't worry. The current run-rate is okay. Keep playing like this. We can win this game. Don't loose the wickets, etc." They comfort their conscience by being optimistic. They seem to have the humanistic worldview. They show unconditional positive regard to their team They love their team and their players whatever the state of the team is.
The superstitious types
Another very interesting bunch is these guys. For them, if the Indians are not scoring runs, or if their wickets are falling one by one, then there is something wrong in the set up of the room where they are watching the game. It can be anything. I would like to give an example from my experience. In the India-Australia World Cup final match, our group started recording the game in a VHS tape. After the first-half of the game, every other person in the room was disappointed and angry seeing the score 359. One guy switched off the VCR and threw the tape away. He said, "This VCR is unlucky and we have to take it out of the room." He did exactly. Took the VCR to the kitchen which was far from the living room and kept there. In the second half of the game, when Sehwag was hitting some boundaries, this man corroborated his decision to put the VCR away, although after the game he would have had a second thought.
The peeping toms
This group of people seem to have a very weak heart. They don't have the courage to face the hard realities. So when India is playing, they never watch the whole game, because the falling of an Indian wicket can be heartbreaking for them. So they peep into the room every now and then and make sure whether things are going okay or not.
Thinking of the India-Australia World Cup 2003 final, the group of around fifty people with whom I watched the game showed reflections of a major crisis in life. The whole reactions of the crowd reminded me of the famous developmental psychologist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's theory of death and dying. Just as a person's approach to the hard reality of death, the fans went through stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance in the end. I keep thinking how powerful a game can be that its spectators demonstrate an array of human qualities just by watching it. It is an experience of showing your emotions, teaching yourself how to control them, and coming to terms with life, an overall catharsis and purification. Perhaps, man's search for meaning throughout his life is what makes life rich and livable.