When plastic bottles began raining on South Africa’s parade in Cuttack as they looked set to win the Paytm T20 series against India, it became clear once more that, on the subcontinent, cricket is a religion and the players are the kind of gods whose places on the pedestal are not particularly well cemented.
In fact, the “bottle pelting” scenario on Monday night was reminiscent of what went down a couple of weeks earlier in Saudi Arabia, when millions of pilgrims pelted the symbolic devil as part of the Hajj. Luckily, there was no stampede in Cuttack.
The crowd reaction reminded me of something the great Sachin Tendulkar once said: “When people throw stones at you, you turn them into milestones.”
It was this kind of attitude that cemented the Little Master’s place on the pedestal of all-time greats, in India and throughout the world, and prevented him from being demonised by any crowd, or player for that matter. But the bottle incident probably feels like more of a millstone for the Indians after Tuesday night’s result.
Another bygone champion, the barbed Muhammad Ali, once said that “no one knows what to say in the loser’s locker room”, and having experienced that stony silence after so many failed attempts at sporting glory in primary school, I’d have to agree.
But perhaps that loss for words translated into bottles for the fans as a mode of expression, or maybe they were just giving MS Dhoni something to talk about after the match. There were, after all, more bottles on the field than runs on the scoreboard for India.
If someone isn’t able to lose gracefully, it’s unlikely they’re going to have much poise when they win. The Proteas, for all their flaws, at least know how to take one on the chin, wipe their eyes and smile through the sting.
Perhaps the composure they have in defeat has just been cultivated over the years by so many crushing disappointments, something fans in the postcolonial home of cricket might not be as used to.
No sweat was broken by the Proteas in clinching the T20 series, first with an epic run chase of 200 last weekend, followed up by a knockout all-round bowling performance to topple India for their lowest-ever total at home in what turned out to be the decider.
But the real prize is not the upcoming one-day series – as mouth-watering as that prospect might be, and for which bottles have been banned – but the four-match test series that gets under way at the beginning of next month.
If this is how the Proteas’ mammoth 70-day tour of India, dubbed the Freedom Series, started off, we can only expect to see many more tears flowing and a lot more heartache, but hopefully no more bottles thrown.
In the five-match ODI series, the Indian side will be looking to earn the respect of their worshippers once more, while the Proteas will be out to shake off their death-bowling and top-order batting demons.
As interesting as that will be, it’s the test series that will separate the demons from the devils and the demigods from the gods.
Will South Africa come out as the test champions they supposedly are? Will India show their fans they are capable of turning those bottles into something more along the lines of what Tendulkar would expect?
Either way, both sides will be hoping they’ll have a lot to say in their respective locker rooms come early December.
is an armchair cricket critic. He’s curious to see how India will manage to put the genie back in the bottle