Shailesh Kapoor: India’s World Cup Exit: When Fans Scored Over The Media

30 Mar,2015

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

After 44 days of intense (and some not-so-intense) cricket, the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 finally ended last evening, with Australia emerging winners in an underwhelming finale. The tournament reached an absolute high on Tuesday, when New Zealand ousted South Africa in a thriller. But Australia’s dominance in the semi-final on Thursday and the final on Sunday ensured there were going to be no more thrillers.

 

India’s exit from the World Cups has always been a subject of media attention, from way back in 1987, when media was very different from how we know it today. 2003 was the only time when the exit (in a one-sided final against Australia) did not fuel any criticism or demand for heads to roll. Otherwise, it has been the same story, in 1987, 1992, 1996, 1999 and 2007.

 

Ironically, the reactions have tended to be extreme when we have lost a semi-final (1987, 1996 & 2015), unlike the low-key 1992 and 1999 campaigns. Evidently, losing on a single day in a do-or-die game can attract a lot more wrath from the media and the fans than a slow death over a long tournament, where life moves on. 2007 was an early exit, but we were playing a virtual knockout there too, vs. Sri Lanka, and the reactions were as extreme as they could be.

 

But something has changed in all these years, I realised on Thursday. India were unbeaten in the World Cup till that point of time, when they were outplayed by Australia. In many ways, this was similar to 2013, where we lost only to Australia, twice that year, but beat everyone else in great style. There seemed more maturity among fans on Thursday evening as the semi-final drew to a low-key end. On the two ends of social media (the mass Facebook and the somewhat elitist Twitter), the reactions suggested that cricket fans have matured over years, or at least India’s performance in this World Cup has not been something that brings out the worst in them. Dejection and criticism were on display, but largely, the tone was not abusive or vicious.

 

You would expect the media, a pillar in a democracy and all that, to be one step ahead of the masses on the maturity curve. Surprisingly (or maybe not-so-surprisingly), the venom and the viciousness came from the media. Orchestrated pictures of TV sets being broken (rickety CRTs to save budget) and fans burning random effigies (that didn’t even resemble anyone in particular) were quickly put on-air. One could pass that off as Hindi news jingoism that one has got used to seeing for almost two decades now.

 

But the English media surprised me with its misjudgment of the public sentiment, where they confused dejection with anger. The headlines in some of the leading newspapers the next day were not entirely in good taste. No prizes for guessing what the headlines in New Zealand on Monday morning will be (they will be out by the time you read this). I can assure you they will be whole-heartedly in favour of the Blackcaps and its brave leader Brendon McCullum, even though it was his dismissal in the first over that set the tone for Aussie dominance in the final.

 

Enough has been written and discussed about Times Now’s approach to the semi-final exit, including on this website. Generally, Arnab Goswami has a good sense of the pulse of the nation. He tends to pick topics that would strike a chord with the audiences, because they tap into their anger, sometimes latent, about the issue. On Thursday though, he got the pulse horribly wrong. Whether it was a one-off or a sign of things to come on the Arnab front, only time will tell. But Times Now would do well to erase that one day from their broadcasting history.

 

Star Sports replaced its #WeWontGiveItBack campaign with a #Respect campaign. The former was a rather average ad film, which got going only because the Indian team got going in this World Cup. There were similar sentiments by many others, including the Prime Minister. But some other sections of media clearly missed the beat.

 

We follow sport because we know we can lose on the day, as much as we can win. No fan expects to win every single time, yet no fan hopes to lose either. I think the exposure of fans to cricketing greats via commentary and news channels has led to this simple truth finding its way into the conscience of what essentially is a non-sporting culture. Hope things get even better in the years to come. Because like always, only one team will win in England 2019.

 

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