Zoya & Other Factors: Innocent superstitions are ok but will sexism go? 

October 25, 2020 3:00 AM

From Ganguly always carrying a picture of his guru in his pocket to Dhoni’s well-documented love for the number 7, sportspersons around the world thrive on superstitions and rituals that they consider lucky for the game

Billionaire business tycoon Anand Mahindra is superstitious about matches and both him and his fans believe that he brings bad luck to matches, so he refrains from watching them.Billionaire business tycoon Anand Mahindra is superstitious about matches and both him and his fans believe that he brings bad luck to matches, so he refrains from watching them.

By Reya Mehrotra

Sachin Tendulkar’s belief in wearing the left knee pad first and love for his lucky bat, which helped him perform in the 2011 World Cup, is well known. After all, what’s the harm if the team wins— the Indian team did win the 2011 World Cup. Not only him, his wife Anjali, a doctor by profession, too, believed that sitting in one position at home while he batted would lead to his good performance. In fact, in his 24-year-long career, she visited the stadium only twice. Zaheer Khan’s yellow handkerchief was a permanent fixture in his pocket whenever he came out to play. Sourav Ganguly always had a picture of his guru in his pocket, rings and malas, and changed his jersey number for luck. With each new player in a team, a new superstition gets added.

The 2007 movie Chain Kulii Ki Main Kulii touched upon the subject of superstition in cricket. In the film, Karan, a 13-year-old orphan, believes his dream of becoming a cricketer will be fulfilled when he gets a ‘magic bat’ that he thinks Kapil Dev used to win the 1983 World Cup. Karan eventually becomes a part of the Indian team thanks to his excellent performance. More than a decade later, The Zoya Factor (2019), based on the 2008 book by Anuja Chauhan and published by HarperCollins, showed how Zoya, who works for an ad agency, becomes the Indian cricket team’s ‘lucky mascot’, with epithets like ‘Zoya factor’ and ‘cricket goddess’ being associated with her.

However, one common trait between both the films was that they debunked superstitions in the climax. In the former, as Karan’s magic bat breaks and he thinks he won’t be able to perform, he is made to understand that the magic did not lie in the bat, but in his talent. Eventually, the team wins the match with Karan’s help. In The Zoya Factor, too, Zoya decides to back out from her role as the lucky mascot to let the team win on its own merit. Initially convinced that they would lose, the team gathers its spirit and goes on to play well and eventually wins the game, debunking the myth that they needed the ‘Zoya factor’ for victory.

Superstitions may have been debunked in the movies, but players continue to play with their lucky charms and beliefs.

Serious business
Billionaire business tycoon Anand Mahindra is superstitious about matches and both him and his fans believe that he brings bad luck to matches, so he refrains from watching them. In 2017, he credited his son-in-law for a win: “Was watching with my American son-in-law who just arrived today. Trying to convince him he brought our team luck & needs to keep coming back.” In 2018, he happily tweeted that the victory came as he stayed away: “I apologise because yesterday, I watched the match and victory was elusive. Today I did my bit and stayed away from the TV and lo and behold, victory is ours! As a true patriot I will henceforth ban my match-watching! (Just kidding…not a promoter of superstition!).” But the following year, in June 2019, he tweeted: “…I will not watch & betray the nation in the next match.”

Sports journalist Boria Mazumdar, who has authored books like Eleven Gods and a Billion Indians, Dreams of a Billion, The Illustrated History of Indian Cricket and co-authored Tendulkar’s autobiography Playing it My Way, says sports is nothing without superstition. “But one is never dependent on it. Sachin never depended on superstitions… it is just a psychological thing that adds to the aura or charm of the sport and provides satisfaction. It doesn’t harm you… if you’re not overdependent. But I do know certain IPL teams that are and that’s not fair… if you think superstition will win you a game. During one such IPL game, I remember a bathroom was written as ‘out of order’ for two consecutive days in Wankhede stadium, but certain players used it and the team won the game. Former Indian cricketer Mohinder Amarnath always carried a red handkerchief,” he says, adding that superstitions are a global phenomena, with players like Steve Waugh often spotted wearing a baggy green cap.

Even Mazumdar has his set of superstitions. He sits in the same position and seat without even a bio-break when India plays. “During one of the World Cup semi-final matches that India lost, I was sitting next to Sachin in the press box in Birmingham’s Edgbaston Stadium and we both refused to get up. Neither of us got up till Dhoni got out. It has been like this for sportspeople. In the NatWest series of 2002, Indian players did not even take a bio-break during the game. In the 2011 World Cup finals, Sachin did not watch the final moments and was lying in the inside part of the Wankhede dressing room, pretending to be asleep.

Sehwag, who was with him, thought he had slept, but actually he was just pretending to sleep. He did not want to go out and did not even let Sehwag go because he said he did not want to jinx the game. Sachin said one can watch it on TV a million times. This has been a part of sports since time immemorial,” he says.
The superstitions are as common among fans and, at times, even more so. Piyush Chaturvedi, director at Uma Motors, a Mathura-based car dealer group, says, “I root for the Indian team or Mumbai Indians during the IPL… during all the big matches, I never leave my room and sit on my bed for the entire duration. I also don’t talk to anyone. It’s a superstitious belief that if I don’t do this, the team I follow won’t perform. At times, the team has lost with me in the room, but that does not affect me. I continue this practice out of habit.”

Delhi-based communications consultant Arjun Tyagi, who is a Chennai Super Kings fan, says since the team is not winning many games, he tries skipping some overs, believing that they will win if he doesn’t watch them play. “I also believe that if I keep walking when a team needs runs, their run rate might shoot up. The faster I walk, the better the runs. When India won the World Cup in 2011, during the last over, I was walking outside and listening to the commentary when that historical moment came through,” he says, adding, “I believe that it’s psychological. If my favourite team is losing when I’m watching, the tables might turn if I don’t watch.”

Not all fans, however, are superstitious. Pune-based cricket buff Aditya Rishi does not believe in superstitions. “Emotions are high when one’s favourite team is playing. There is a default setting, where they always feel that their team might lose, but a neutral observer will not feel that way,” he says, adding, “VVS Laxman used to tap on the crease as many times as his individual batting score at the end of each over.”

Lady luck
‘Behind every successful man is a woman’ is a phrase that has been used in every part of the world. Ironically, though, women have been blamed for men’s failures too. In the cricket world, wives and girlfriends are often blamed for “distracting” players with their presence in the stadiums. In 2015, the Indian team’s exit from the ICC World Cup had fans blaming Anushka Sharma to which an angry Virat Kohli hit back verbally, holding his then girlfriend’s hand firmly. “At a human level, I would say I was hurt and the people who said those things and the way they said should be ashamed of themselves,” he was quoted as saying during an interview.

Recently, former Indian cricketer Sunil Gavaskar’s controversial remarks on Kohli’s poor performance during an IPL match took the internet by storm. He had remarked that it seemed that Kohli had only practised on wife Anushka’s balls during the lockdown, a statement that seemed suggestive. Having previously been targeted for Kohli’s performances with sexist comments, Anushka was quick to retort, saying that things haven’t changed for her even in 2020. However, Gavaskar later clarified that he never blamed the actor, but was referring to a video circulating online in which the Indian captain can be seen batting on balls thrown by Anushka at their home during the lockdown. Anushka, however, is not alone, as Sania Mirza, a renowned tennis player herself, was trolled for cricketer husband Shoaib Malik’s poor run at the 2019 World Cup.

Mazumdar calls the onslaught on Anushka ‘unfortunate and disgusting’. “If you’re going to label her as the reason, then Virat has more successes than failures… give her credit for that too, for all his hundreds, double hundreds, run chases. Such people who blame are the trash that constitutes social media,” he says.

However, the younger generation of cricketers standing up against sexist comments doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have superstitions. They, too, follow them like their seniors. “The current generation is as superstitious as the older one. Perhaps it is this one trait that unites them. I know for a fact that certain players won’t do certain things on the eve of a match. I won’t name them because they are currently in the team. But they don’t talk to certain people or media or eat certain things before a match. So this is one thing that travels across generations,” Mazumdar says.

While the religion of cricket thrives in the country with all its superstitions, one can only hope that it continues minus sexism.

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