The 2019 Cricket World Cup is in its final stage with the four semi-finalists to play for the ultimate cricketing glory. Depending on the performance of the team you cheered for, the tournament brought some ecstatic as well heartbreaking moments. Just how important a cricket match can be for a passionate fan?
When Pakistan lost to India on June 16, Pakistani fans were pretty disappointed. One such fan’s rant went viral on social media. The fan, identified as Momin Saqib by some media reports, justified his disappointment, saying that cricket is one of the few things left to cheer about in Pakistan. “Jis mulk mein economy struggle kar rahi ho..logun ko roti pani ka masla ho, uss mulk mein jo choti choti khushiyun ki cheezen hoti hai unn mein se cricket ek hai…,” he says before breaking into a rant and blaming Pakistani players of depriving their fans of the happiness.
Commenting on their poor fitness and eating habits, Momin suggested that Pakistani players should give up cricket and take up wrestling instead. The video evoked laughter as well as sympathy for the dejected fan. Now imagine the reaction of the same fan had Pakistan won that game.
A game of cricket can offer much more than some fleeting hours of entertainment to ward off boredom. It can offer a temporary refuge from the overwhelming worries of routine life. That’s why cricket fans can be unforgiving at times. An invincible hero in one match can suddenly appear mortal and weak the moment he fails. Even the likes of Virat Kohli have had to face the ire of fans. Some even go personal and hurl choicest of abuses at the players.
Does watching sport make us happy? This question was explored by Tom Fordyce in his piece for BBC Sports. Of course when your favourite team wins, it makes you happy and if it losses you are left disappointed and even angry at times. The bigger the expectation, the bigger the disappointment. So can we minimize our disappointment by expecting less?
Fordyce cites research done at Cambridge University which indicates the amount of dopamine we release is directly related to how much we were expecting an event to occur. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that helps control brain's pleasure centres. When our team does well under tense match situations, it sends a surge of dopamine through our body. That is perhaps why some cricketing moments are etched in our memory.
Staying with the dejected Pakistani fans, right from the last-ball six from Javed Miandad’s bat in Sharjah in 1986 to the crowning glory of the 1992 World Cup, the cricketing history of the country is replete with such joyous moments. Even in recent years, when Pakistan team has suffered string of defeats against arch rivals India, there have been some matches to cherish. The last-over victory scripted by Shahid Afridi’s two towering sixes in the 2014 Asia Cup match and the massive 180-run win in the 2017 Champions Trophy final still evoke feeling of elation among Pakistani fans.
India, no doubt, is a far superior side. Indians also have the bragging rights for their 7-0 victory record against Pakistan in World Cup encounters. Some fans take the refuge in history. They cite the overall head-to-head count: of the 132 matches played between the two nations, Pakistan has won 73 while India trails behind with 55 victories. That gap is shrinking quite fast and if the men-in-green don’t pull up their socks, they will lose this excuse as well.
Sometimes the feeling of victory is worth the wait and frustration. The only cricketing rivalry that perhaps comes close to India-Pakistan matches is the Ashes. Australia has been dominating the series so when England won the 2005 Ashes- their first in nearly two decades– it was an emotional time for the English supporters. For the first time in so many years, an English team looked upto the challenge. All the previous disappointments had been cast away. The wait had made the victory sweeter.
Back to the ways to minimize the disappointment, the happiest fans seem to be those with the lowest expectations.
As the BBC report quotes Eric Simons, author of The Secret Life of Sports Fans, saying: "The best way to be as a fan is to have the maximum emotional investment in a team but the least expectation of success, because that's what rules the dopamine release."
While watching our team go down can be miserable, we can lessen the impact by realizing the futility of fretting over something the outcome of which we just can’t control.
Simons suggests fans to look for other positives than just victory and defeat. "Identifying yourself with a team, the idea of being part of a group, is very important. And you get that whether a team wins or loses. Losing together is a very powerful experience, and one that can help you much more in life than the shallow, superficial joy of winning."
This is not to say that we should ignore the joy and sadness that can come with a cricket match. We can’t downplay the significance of an India-Pakistan match by comparing it with our other engagements at home and workplace, especially when the two countries rarely get to play each other.
As Simons suggests, "If your team has lost horribly, legitimise that emotion. Of course you're sad, because this is what it is to be human - to be angry and frustrated over inconsequential things."
Winning and losing is part of the game and so are the feelings of anger and frustration. If we have to face despair for years in the hope of that one winning moment which will make us feel ecstatic and alive, so be it.