April 11, 2013

When Inzamam confronted his bully

Inzamam-ul-Haq being restrained by security officials at the Sahara Cup match © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Despite being one of the greatest batsmen ever, like many large men before him Inzamam-ul-Haq was relegated a comic role. He fulfilled this often, whether falling on his stumps or being run out walking down the wicket following through from a shot.

But behind the Wodehousian facade there was also something quite unique about Inzy. Not the fact that he won so many Tests for his team (over 60% of Inzamam's hundreds were in a match his team won, better than Jacques Kallis, Sachin Tendulkar and Kevin Pietersen).

Nor the fact that he had a dancer's quickness on the crease, a languorous quality to his batsmanship that gave him so much time and elegance on the ball. No, there is one incident which in my eyes elevated him to the pantheon of great sportsmen, that which showed his unique class - the time he went after a bully in the crowd.

The year was 1997, the match a Sahara Cup encounter between Pakistan and India, held in Toronto. In the stands stood a troublemaker, one Shiv Kumar Thind.

Thind had been allowed into the stadium with a megaphone. Why he'd been allowed in with this sonic device, which could only ever have been used to stir trouble in a match of this standing, I don't know. But the resultant fracas showed why megaphones are something which should never be allowed near the field of sport again.

So with megaphone in hand Thind watched. He watched and waited for the Pakistanis to take their place in the field and prepared to make himself heard. Although reports of the event differ, Thind apparently thought he would make fun of the portly Inzamam, the man who can't run between wickets, the fatty who can't field. What an easy victim. Abusing him would be like breaking a butterfly on a wheel.

Thind allegedly called Inzamam several things. The gist was that Inzamam was fat, should stand up straight and had a physique comparable to a potato. The fact is, this was bullying in the extreme.

Like any bully, Thind probably thought he would get away with it. After all he was abusing an international player from afar - how could there be any comeback? But there was. This time, the tables were turned on the bully. Because at some point, when he'd heard himself being compared to every form of potato under the sun, when he'd heard his country being abused, his team being insulted, Inzamam's calm shattered.

Now was the season of Inzy's discontent. A whisper went out among the team and suddenly the 12th man appeared at the boundary with a bat in his hand. Another whisper and suddenly Inzamam was posted to the boundary right next to his bully.

An eyewitness account of the day describes the scene: "Next thing we know, Inzamam charges across the field, jumps over the small fence separating the ground from the stands, climbs up through the crowd, and grabs the megaphone and starts thumping the guy."

What must he have been thinking as a maddened cricketer turned his gaze towards him and started to run into the crowd?

The fuse was lit and the dynamite exploded. Thind had no idea this was coming. What must he have been thinking as a maddened cricketer turned his gaze towards him and started to run into the crowd? One can only imagine how his bowels trembled, as one's own might were we to see a rhinoceros shaking its horn at us.

The Guardian quoted an eyewitness: "If not for the spectators and security staff curbing him, he would have broken the head of that guy. The guy with the megaphone was no match for Inzamam and got mauled."

The police intervened and Thind was taken away in disgrace. Madan Lal, India's team manager, took the fabled megaphone and called for peace. Order was restored and the match restarted. Inzamam took a catch but Pakistan lost.

Following the match the reverberations continued. Thind was arrested. But like any bully he cried foul. He cried to everyone who could hear - said he would report Inzamam to the police, would have him banned from cricket, would make sure he never played again.

Fortunately the authorities saw sense and gave Inzy a two-match ban. Legal justice was done. But more important was the Homeric justice done that day. The honour of a man's pride was preserved.

True, Inzamam might not have the preening glamour of an Imran Khan or a Kevin Pietersen, or the "cool" fame of a Viv Richards. True, he might be comical in his running between the wicket, portly and somewhat hapless in his demeanour.

But it's also true to say he had a refined dignity and stateliness which will escape many others. I, for one, like these kind of personalities. It makes them far more interesting than show offs. He certainly didn't suffer bullies kindly.

Anyway, for my part, I would like to offer Inzy an apology from the clan of Thinds wherever they may be. (Though I hasten to add that this particular Thind is/was absolutely no relation to me.)

A quite passionate follower of cricket and writer of articles, Safi Thind is one of the authors of the cricketerdiaries blog