Why is the Indian fan so angry?
One thing the India-Australia series was bound to do was generate a few flame wars between Indian and Australian fans. One didn't have to wait long, starting with the sniping in the press, the release of Adam Gilchrist's autobiography and ElbowGate.
One common thread in these debates, at least from the Australian side, is the sense of disbelief that Indian fans could be so unbelievably over-the-top in their sensitivities. Do they really think the world is out to get them? I don't think the world is. But I want to highlight a small part of the subtext to the sensitivities of Indian fans. I do not speak as a representative of the group, but merely want to offer a small personal glimpse into the set of accumulated feelings that could lead to this state of affairs.
Consider umpiring. The Indian distaste for Steve Bucknor was most notoriously on display at Sydney earlier in the year, and we haven't heard the end of that debate yet. But why would Indians ever think particular umpires were against them? What could their motivation be? I'd like to suggest that while there might be no overt prejudice in umpiring decisions against the Indian teams, the alert fan has not been ignorant of what might politely be called an "attitude" towards the Indian team. And that isn't a trust-engendering state of affairs.
Here are two, small, anecdotal vignettes. In the 2001 'Kolkata' series, Peter Willey was umpiring at Kolkata. The Indian 12th man ran onto the ground with either gloves or a bottle of water or a message or all three. Willey waved him off the ground imperiously, much like a District Collector might have waved his khansama off the gymkhana polo grounds. I wonder whether he would have employed that body language to an English or Australian player. I think Willey would have waited till the player was on the ground and gone over to talk to him. In the Delhi Test, Billy Bowden called a dead ball on VVS Laxman, cancelling the runs made by the batsmen because they had run on the pitch. When Laxman asked Bowden why the runs had been cancelled, Bowden put a finger on his lips, much as a schoolmaster might chastise a schoolboy. Again, I wonder whether Bowden would ever have used such a patronising gesture to an English or Australian player.
What does this have to do with the quality of umpiring decisions? Aren't they professionals doing a job? Yes. But they are also human beings, prone to all the foibles of our species. So are Indian fans, in suspecting prejudice subconciously underwrites patronising behavior. And they express themselves the most vehemently on the Net, not the best venue to express subtlety in arguments (those happen best over beers and face-to-face).
Back when neutral umpires were first introduced, I'm ashamed to say I was worried about Pakistani umpires officiating in Indian matches. I wondered whether they would actually be neutral when it came to Indian teams (all the umpiring controversies in India-Pakistan games had left their mark on me). It is both an indication of my current (mild) mistrust in other umpires because of many little incidents like the two I have cited above, that I now feel the most relieved when I see Aleem Dar and Asad Rauf umpiring in India's games. Their umpiring is of decent quality (Taufel beats everyone hands down) and best of all, I never worry about whether they have got their backs up during their interactions with the Indians.
Perhaps my worries are unfounded. But I'm speaking here frankly as an anxious Indian fan, one used to Murphy's Law balefully staring down at the Indian team. I do not offer this post as an exculpation for any over-the-top expressions of national paranoia or insecurity, but just a small glimpse into what might ground the expressions of this very large, very vocal, and very passionate group of cricket lovers.
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here