Sports have the ability to take us to the pinnacle of euphoria as well as to the depths of despair. And the eerie silence on the streets last night across India as Australian captain, Pat Cummins and his team walked away with the World Cup in their hands is a testament to this. The Aussies beat India in the finals by six wickets to win their sixth World Cup. The Sunday scars have well and truly carried forward to Monday and will continue to for some time now. And understandably. After all the whole country rooted for the Men in Blue to bring the Cup home. For days, the conversation and mood of this cricket-crazy nation—where the sport is considered a religion—will be of disappointment, anger, and sadness.
While we hope for better days in cricket, we should understand why this happens and how to deal with such strong emotions and get past it.
Feeling a sense of identity and belongingness
"When one passionately associates themselves with a certain sports team, political party or religion, they come to link it to their identity. There is a sense of a sense of belongingness regarding their success," says Sherene Aftab, founder of Serene Hour Counselling & Career Advice Consultancy as well as Mehezabin Dordi, clinical psychologist, Sir H N Reliance Foundation Hospital, Mumbai. “Because you are emotionally invested—as you spend time watching and supporting them and interacting with other people who share the passion—the victories validate the connection while the defeats feel like a personal setback,” says Dordi. Aftab sheds light on what happens once this bond is built. “Over time, you start defending the team and their actions and feel angry or upset if someone does not concur with you. We look at the team we support as something that we believe in. And this belief and undying faith is so strong that it simply cannot fail.”
Of passion and escapism
Watching sports and supporting a team provides one with a distraction as well as gives them a sense of purpose and escapism from daily stressors. “When we watch something we believe in, we feel elated or sad about their wins and losses. You want more of it because the rush takes you through the ups and downs,” says Aftab. If your team wins, you want more of it. And if they lose, you want to feel the high of a victory after their poor form. Loyal fans never give up.
Why do we remember defeats more than victories?
The reason for feeling dejected is simple, says Dordi. “As humans, our brains are wired to focus on the negatives than the positives. Our brain has a negativity bias—we look out for threats more often than good things. This is our survival instinct. While one is prepared to celebrate the victory and are always hopeful about it, they find it difficult to deal with the defeat.”
The reason why this particular defeat hurts
Sport teaches us one thing—that if there’s victory, there will be defeat as well. And this Monday has become difficult to sail past because it was THE final match. That’s how the psyche of a sports fan has always been says Prasanna Sant, sports commentator and analyst. “The winner takes everything. 10 out of 10 wins is top class, but when you are reminded that Australia—who lost their first two games in the tournament and were 10th in the table at one point—won the World Cup, it truly hurts and disappoints. You know that’s what people are going to remember. The loss does feel like an anti-climax because the mood even before the final began was that of hope and cheer. We weren’t the underdogs, but the favourites here. I’m not sure how many from the current squad will play in the next edition of the World Cup 2027. Rohit (Sharma) who was inconsolable. That is the sad part of the story. We couldn’t cross the final hurdle and you don’t know how many will get that chance.”
Audiences have changed for the better
While Indian cricket fans hoped and prayed that the result would eliminate the trauma of India’s loss to Australia in 2003, they’ve now got 2023 to deal with as well. That said, people are dealing with the situation better. “I think 20 years down the lane; we have changed a lot as an audience. In 2003, it was very difficult to accept defeat. There was a lot of criticism and personal attacks. But if you look at social media, even though India lost, there isn’t much criticism as compared to what happened 20 years back. But we are reacting differently. People are not criticising, but appreciating team India, because they played some phenomenal cricket with 10 straight victories. We had one bad day,” adds Sant.
There clearly has been a shift in the audiences' outlook. “The focus has changed from the outcome to the process and that’s what people are appreciating. People are less critical and far more supportive because of the sense of belonging. Despite the outcome, you support a team in good days and bad.”
You wouldn’t give up on yourself when you have bad days, so why give up on a team that has given you a sense of identity, joy, and pride. “This is the team that gave you 10 terrific matches. The fans aren’t critical now and there isn’t much trolling. We know that we had a bad day and that’s a very big change from the past. We will continue to back the Men in Blue,” says Sant.
How to cope with India's loss this World Cup?
Simply understand and accept that this is a part of the game. The emotions are valid, but it’s part of the process. To manage and deal with it is to gain perspective. Recognise that while you may be passionate about a particular team, their performance doesn’t define your worth and happiness.
Separating your own personal identity from their success helps maintain a sense of well-being. Yes, you do get the rush, but it shouldn’t be your only source. Do not put all your feelings and emotions in this one basket. Focus on what you can control. You can’t control the outcome, but you can control how you react to the situation. Redirecting the attention to factors within your control and supporting the team helps alleviate the negative feelings. Don’t perpetuate hate for the team or the opposite and be a responsible fan of the game.