Unruly Cuttack crowd shows a sad face of Indian cricket fans

For followers of the gentleman's game, the circus at the Barabati stadium came as a bit of a blast from the past.

 |  4-minute read |   06-10-2015
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Once upon a time there was a hare and a tortoise who decided to race. The hare was speedy and ruthless and before the tortoise so much as eased himself out of his shell properly, he crossed the winning line, popped open a bottle of celebratory beer and lit a Cuban cigar. The tortoise was slow but he had friends - swimming buddies who were just as slow as him, in every sense of the word. When he saw the hare happily skipping back, the tortoise and his friends gathered all their energy and, for once in their miserable lives, did something quickly. They threw rocks at the victor (through slingshots that they had kept for occasions like these), who was shocked out of his wits. The tortoise and his cousins and all his friends hurled and hurled until the terrified hare ran away, scarred literally and otherwise.

As all those unfortunate enough to have seen the India versus South Africa T20 international on October 5 know, we are a nation of curmudgeonly old tortoises. Kim Jong-un, the executor of friend, foe and occasional squeeze, is a more gracious loser than the Indian cricket fan, in my humble opinion.

For those not in the loop, here's the short version: India, playing the second of the three T20 internationals against South Africa on Monday, had a terrible day at the office. They batted poorly and were shot out for 92. South Africa never really looked like losing the game and got home without any serious hiccups. However, there were no less than three occasions where a section of the crowd began throwing plastic bottles onto the ground to signal their displeasure with India's performance: on two of those occasions, they managed to stop play, evoking memories of the 1996 World Cup semi-final between India and Sri Lanka, when an irate Eden Gardens crowd did not allow further cricket after India were 8 down for 120, chasing an unlikely 250-plus for victory.

For serious followers of cricket in India, the Cuttack circus came as a bit of a blast from the past: we thought that we had finally moved past the whole bottle-throwing phase. This reminds me, the presence of plastic bottles is another mystifying aspect of the whole thing. The BCCI had banned plastic bottles a long time ago, fearing just the kind of meltdown we saw last night: if you've watched cricket live at an Indian ground recently (and did not have VIP tickets), chances are that you drank out of a plastic pouch. So basically, were we all made to drink water out of those horrid little pouches for nothing? That's the kind of austerity measure that Greeks are currently not too impressed with.

Remember, this is the country where Pakistan once played a Test match before empty stands, after police had to clear the stadium following crowd disturbance: this was in 1999, in the inaugural match of the Asian Test Championship. This was a match where Sachin Tendulkar was run out after colliding with Shoaib Akhtar. After Tendulkar's departure, Akhtar was pelted with bottles and other objects and subjected to chants of "Cheat! Cheat!" by the Kolkata crowd, who had clearly not learnt their lesson after 1996. The following morning, even as India slid towards defeat, spectators started to burn newspapers and pepper the boundary lines with missiles.

We managed to start a riot in a cricket stadium and that too twice in successive days: think about that for a minute.

On November 6, 2002, India played West Indies in an one day international (ODI) at Jamshedpur, generally considered to be one of the genteel parts of the country. Not on that day, though. When West Indies were 13 runs away from victory in the 47th over, the crowd got in on the act; the weapon of choice was water bottles once again. I remember watching a disgusted Yuvraj Singh making obscene gestures at the crowd - this only spurred them on further, however. Later, my brother, who happened to be part of the "trouble" section of the crowd that day, told me that there were quite a few racist chants directed at the Caribbean players.

The Cuttack police, though, must shoulder its share of the blame. They allowed lightning to strike thrice in the space of an hour and that's simply unacceptable for an international match. The BCCI has a new leadership and is eager to clean up its act and plan for the future. I suggest they start with penalising Cuttack and ensuring that it does not get an international fixture for the next 12 months at least.

Writer

Aditya Mani Jha Aditya Mani Jha @aditya_mani_jha

Writer works at Penguin Random House India. The views expressed here are his own.

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