“The fact of being an underdog changes people in ways that we often fail to appreciate. It opens doors and creates opportunities and enlightens and permits things that might otherwise have seemed unthinkable.” – Malcolm Gladwell
Cricket-wise, Champions Trophy-wise, Pakistan and India were David and Goliath. David, ranked No. 8, came armed with a sling and, right at the end, let fly! Fakhar Zaman first, then Mohammad Hafeez, then Mohammad Amir, Shadab Khan, Hasan Ali … heck, Pakistan even fielded well. And that was that for India, the runaway favourites.
This will go down in cricketing history as a classic underdog tale – almost as good as, if not quite at par with, India’s 1983 World Cup win.
Like Pittsburgh Pirates beating New York Yankees in the 1960 World Series. Described recently by David Schoenfield of ESPN as “a game between the underdog blue-collar Pirates, from a blue-collar city still bursting with steel mills, and the glamorous Yankees of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford”. The greatest home run – from Bill Mazeroski – ever? The greatest baseball game ever played?
Like Leicester City winning the 2015-16 Premiership title – 5000-to-1 outsiders at the start of the season. Or Greece winning Euro 2004. Goran Ivanisevic winning Wimbledon 2001 after starting the championships ranked No. 125 in the world.
And so many others – as recently as in 2016, we had Joseph Schooling of Singapore beating his, and many others’, hero Michael Phelps in the Olympic 100m butterfly final, and Angelique Kerber topping Serena Williams to win the Australian Open.
Buster Douglas – 42-to-1 underdog – knocked Mike Tyson out in Tokyo in 1990. It was billed as ‘TYSON IS BACK’; it ended with Tyson on his back, Buster dancing above him. Ringside, ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard called it: “You just don’t have it … things just don’t click in.”
That’s it at the end of the day, isn’t it – things just don’t click in. And it does for the other guy, or the other team. Fakhar, Hafeez, Amir, Shadab, Hasan – click, click, click, click, click.
Watch that Tyson-Douglas fight on YouTube if you can – not at any stage, not when it started and not even when he was knocked down, did Douglas flinch. Not so we (or Tyson) could see it, at least.
For him, it must have been like Sarfraz Ahmed’s pre-Champions Trophy pronouncement: “We are No. 8, we have nothing to lose.” For Sarfraz and his boys, for Douglas, for Muhammad Ali against Sonny Liston all those years ago, for Leicester City, and all the underdogs who landed that one knockout punch when no one expected them to, being underdogs released them from the pressure to win, permitted them things that might have seemed unthinkable otherwise. It left them free to punch above their weight, without the fear of failure.
You see, if no one expects you to win, there’s no shame in losing. As Sarfraz said more than once during the Champions Trophy, the pressure’s on the opponents.
But the underdog upset happens far too often in sport for the Goliaths to sit back complacently, not expect the stone to come and pierce the forehead.
Whether fans of the Indian cricket team were expecting that stone or not, I don’t know. They should have. If not at the start, then soon afterwards. But it was pretty grand that, afterwards, they were willing to give credit where it’s due. Most of them anyway.
There must have been some amount of abuse, some Pakistan-bashing, some sore-losers gripe … loose talk of fixing, finding villains (poor Ravindra Jadeja). Such is the nature of the beast that is social media. But, on the whole, there was an acceptance of the result and courtesy in defeat, with the cue coming from Virat Kohli, who was ready to face up to the fact that Pakistan were just the better team on the day – by far. “In the end, you have to accept and admire sometimes the skill of the opposition as well,” he said.
I often don’t like the way Kohli’s lips – and his face – move during the heat of battle; I don’t think that’s quite the way a captain should behave. But that’s his prerogative – as long as he isn’t in contravention of any laws: Push them, don’t break them.
But, consistently, Kohli has shown that he can be graceful – in victory and, especially, in defeat. Dr Virat and Mr Kohli? Considering the number of Indians who idolise him, Kohli’s calm, I suspect, helped a lot of people accept and admire the Pakistanis’ spirit and skill on Sunday night. It doesn’t happen too often, you know.
“I want to congratulate Pakistan, they had an amazing tournament, the way they turned things around, speak volumes for the talent they have,” went on Kohli. His sportsmanship was lauded by Pakistani cricket fans too. That doesn’t happen too often either, you know.
Nothing beats an underdog’s against-all-odds victory script. We all have our favourites, yes, but the underdogs … they will always be The Team. Even when ‘us’ is India and ‘they’ is Pakistan. Or the other way around. Perhaps especially then actually, because manufactured battles should be left outside the gates of the playing fields.