However, in recent years, we have managed to crowd heroes and achievers out of a national imagination that refuses to look beyond one man’s ‘inspirational’ and ‘visionary’ leadership.
Within minutes of Australia winning the 2023 Cricket World Cup in Ahmedabad thanks to a workmanlike century by Travis Head, a WhatsApp message went viral: ‘Travis Head ke ghar pe ED ka chappa (ED raids Travis Head’s home)’.
Aside from the messenger’s malice, the witty comment unintentionally capitalized on our nation’s inclination to manipulate and, where feasible, subvert the principles of fair play.
We, the millions and millions of Indians, have every right to feel that we have been cheated out of a victory that our narrative manufacturers and event managers had assured us was ours, just because we say so. This goes beyond the 120,000 blue t-shirts that had crowded the stadium (yes, named after the one and only one). The regular hosting of an international event a few months prior was transformed into a “our moment has come” frenzy, with the “unbeaten” squad being declared the inevitable winner simply because we had “waited” for too long.
Within the framework of our well-publicized national “march” toward glory and dominance, we appear to have deduced that the world owed us a World Cup trophy. It was time to get even [with Australia], as the Punjab Kesari, that genuine voice of the Hindi heartland, headlined on Sunday morning.
To be clear, after winning the first nine games of the competition, Rohit Sharma’s team has every cause to be pleased with their season. However, since Rohit Sharma has failed to win the Cup, he and his teammates should be ready for the Monday-morning quarterbacks to mock them.
Our collective brashness has taught us the art of losing gracefully. Cricket is the sport that commands our attention and admiration more than any other. As a result, we are not very good at accepting defeat, especially in cricket.
We all secretly hoped for a true “national triumph” in Ahmedabad—a match won (or lost) in accordance with the rules, sternly and forcefully upheld by an outside organization and its impartial umpires. The majority of us have an innate sense that a large portion of what we define as “success” and “achievements” is determined by shaky umpires who enforce shaky rules. There was no unfair edge for Rohit Sharma’s boys, other from a very supportive home audience. Just competitions, when won fairly, have a unique and fulfilling flavor.
In order to celebrate the victories and glory of its athletes, every culture yearns for stars and victors. But in the last few years, we have succeeded in stifling the nation’s imagination so that it is no longer able to see beyond the “inspirational” and “visionary” leadership of a single man, thus crowding heroes and achievers out of it.
The institutionalized cult of personality rejects any other recognizable “achievers.” Apart from the esteemed Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, there are no identifiable leaders in any sector of the Indian economy, if we examine the leadership landscape in an objective manner. We have no officer controlling a national presence in a country that has supposedly raised its soldiers and their generals to a new and greater position; General Bipin Rawat, the last soldier to pursue fame for himself, died tragically young. No business magnate aspires to become a national voice for himself; in reality, Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani have both prudently chosen to maintain a low profile and seldom permit the cameras to be in their presence.
The one and only national leader cannot be overshadowed by a movie star, a religious figurehead, or even the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
The 2023 World Cup provides us with some serious leadership lessons in this regard. One thing all four of the captains who guided their teams to the semifinals had in common was their non-bombastic, non-bragging demeanor. Never once did Kate Williamson (New Zealand), Temba Bavuma (South Africa), Patrick Cummins (Australia), or Rohit Sharma (India) seem to think they could carry their side to victory by themselves. Despite their differences in character, all four captains had a nearly identical work ethic that aimed to maximize group energy and synergy. Team interests take precedence over inflated egos and individual accolades.
In actuality, Rohit Sharma’s style of leadership deviates from the national norm. He isn’t showy, ostentatious, or an exhibitionist in the slightest. He finds it difficult to be a showman. He is not a leader with an obsession. He has said that he cherishes the time he spends with his family off the cricket field. Even so, he never fails to captivate us with his carefree brilliance when he lobs the ball over the boundary for a six or with his understated knack of reading the game. He would only admit to himself that he wanted to win the Cup for Rahul Dravid, the team’s coach.
It is true that in Ahmedabad, there could only be one victor.
The great inspirational leader himself was not there, and no amount of event management savvy could have inspired Rohit and his colleagues to defeat the Australians on Sunday. It’s possible that the Australians planned their off-field activities more meticulously; they had our bowlers and hitters figured out.
However, given that cricket has evolved into a national obsession that transcends all national boundaries, the Ahmedabad result will affect practically every Indian directly. Furthermore, our loss would be well worth the suffering if it made us as a country and as a society realize that there are boundaries to false charisma and grandstanding and that true talent, real skills, and genuine leadership are essential for success both on and off the field.