With no one really giving a toss about the Kohli-less, Shastri-less three-match T20 series between India and New Zealand after Team India returned from the World Cup with only sand in their duffel bags to show, there’s a quiet murmur doing the rounds these days, instead of the usual INDIAA! It’s about India having finished the World Cup ‘with pride’. And so begins the narrative: Playing for Pride – PfP.
Like the fire extinguisher, PfP is taken out only after disaster strikes. It’s the motivational bio-bubble that keeps this nation going after witnessing a crash and burn despite a billion-plus people (give or take a few people like ten students in Agra) willing a World Cup title. It is something installed, hardwired in our system, operationalised each and every time with a heavy heart. After that starts the usual routine of management blaming coach, coach giving his spin on things, players defending the coach and vice versa…. Actually, this routine starts in everyone very early in school.
Growing up in a school in South Delhi, I have had a similar experience. Unlike Ravi Shastri being trolled and memed for the team’s failure, our school coach — or the all-in-one sports teacher who’s expected to be an expert in all games – Rishi Sir suffered no such universal pressure. He handled things in his own Dronacharya way.
For starters, our school had negligible space for play. The playground (sic) was, at best, the size of a mid-level civil servant’s garden in Lutyens’ Delhi. Add to that space, a basketball court and a table-tennis table or two. And it was Rishi Sir’s job to keep the future of Indian sports as represented by us going. So with nothing much in terms of equipment and infrastructure, it was Rishi Sir’s job to make us boys and girls run every morning, put up a decent display on Sports Day, make the school march on Independence Day and conduct an occasional team practice or two.
Growing up in those Cold War-NAM years of the 1980s, we would often rue our lack of facilities even as we would renew our pledge to make it one day. If given a chance (read: right training etc) Indian athletes, so went this line of thinking, would not only make pulp of the East Germans and the Soviets but also the Americans. In our case, this seldom happened. Year after year, a rival school team would visit and destroy us on our own turf. Which is when we learnt to PfP, play for pride.
While ‘But we played well’ was well internalised, ‘We gave them a good fight’ was not good enough for our middle-class parents who yearned for a medal hanging from their kids’ necks. And this was a relatively new school trying to build a reputation.
When this parental wish was relayed to the upper echelons of our school, Rishi Sir was called upon to pull up his own and boys’ socks, step up and deliver results. Ergo, we were introduced to the concept of PfP. One morning, the school’s cricket team was packed up in the school Matador and off the 12 boys went for a big match against a rival school. But the real game happened elsewhere.
The van stopped at a DDA park, about 300 metres from school. The boys were divided in two teams of six each, a match was played for 20 overs, and the school team returned later in the day – victorious.
Yelling 80s-style ‘Hip Hip Hurray!’ the boys in the Matador entered school claiming that they had thrashed the DPS boys. And the hero was our Ravi Shastri, Rishi Sir. The school’s sports narrative was thus set to enter a new era, under his dynamic stewardship and guidance. The man had won the round on his own terms – and quite literally. Alas, there were endorsements, social media and WhatsApp forwards to follow in that zamaana. But we had played, for pride.