November 13, 2002

Far from the madding crowd

© CricInfo
"Great minds think alike," said one wag. "Then how do fools differ?" came the snappy reply. At the Madhavrao Scindia stadium in Rajkot, while Bernard Shaw's 11 flannelled (albeit in full-colour flannels) fools slugged it out in the middle, more genuine representatives of the legion of fools aimed a water bottle straight at Vasbert Drakes' knee.

The quarry was hit, while yet another identified flying object reportedly narrowly missed substitute fielder Ryan Hinds on the ropes. With India on 200 for one from 27.1 overs, comfortably chasing 301 for victory, the game was abandoned, and India declared winners by the Duckworth/Lewis method.

For the third time in as many matches, spectators had overstepped the mark and actually become a part of the action in the most inexcusable manner. "It goes without saying that the BCCI completely condemns this kind of behaviour from crowds. The security of players and officials has always been a prime concern to us," Honorary Secretary of the BCCI SK Nair told CricInfo from the Board office in Mumbai.

Nair spelt out the various measures the Board has taken to ensure that a reprise of the unfortunate Rajkot events does not affect forthcoming matches. "We've instructed staging authorities to work closely with the local police to ensure that spectators entering the ground are frisked properly," he explained. "They will not be allowed to bring in any objects that can be potentially used as missiles." This of course means that law-abiding, devoted fans will not be able to tote in their sandwiches and fruit, and that enthusiasts will be forced to leave autograph-books and pens at home. A sorry state of affairs, maybe, but the authorities' response can be summed up in one word: "Tough."

In an attempt to take action against only those who cause trouble, the BCCI has resorted to upping the ante. "Closed-circuit cameras are going to be installed at strategic points so that we can find out exactly who the culprits are and take immediate action," said an agitated Nair. "Police have been told to immediately take disruptive elements into custody."

The Board has even gone to the extent of bringing the government into the affair. "We've been in touch with the Government of Gujarat to impress upon them the serious nature of the problem. We will leave no stone unturned," he added.

Which is all well and good, and really, a degree in crime-busting is hardly needed to devise these basic methods. But will they be enough? Or does the heart of the problem really lie elsewhere?

Niranjan Shah, who held Nair's post at the BCCI till recently and has been involved in cricket administration at Rajkot for years, has a slightly different - and no less relevant - take on the matter. "If you look at it, the incident in Rajkot was a very minor one. In both Jamshedpur and Nagpur the incidents were more widespread and threatening. It was just the accumulation of the old incidents that caused the problem," said Shah, speaking to CricInfo from his Rajkot residence.

Minor incident? A player was hit!

"If someone was injured or something, I can understand that a team would walk off at the first instance of something like this happening," Shah explained. "But no system can be foolproof. Whatever we try, a few people will always create trouble. We removed about 2,000 spectators from the premises. Most senior officials from the police force were there and went and spoke to the West Indians. But immediately after they (the policemen) came off the field, the West Indies changed their mind and took the harsh step of refusing to return to the field," explained Shah.

Looking forward, Shah added, "If teams walk off for minor incidents, it will set a very dangerous precedent. Teams also have to be practical about these things." An alternate vein of logic that can hardly be ignored in these times, when cricket matches are big business.

It is a dangerous lane to walk down, but one that Shah has been forced to tread as one of the key people responsible for organising cricket at Rajkot. "What is the administration to do in that case? How will they answer to the sponsors? Or to the 50,000 spectators gathered at the ground?" he asked.

"If you think about it, why is it that the West Indians came back onto the field at Jamshedpur? In Rajkot they knew that they had lost the game, so they simply walked away," Shah suggested. Given the overwhelming volume of arguments presented for the opposing school of thought, Shah's ideas are ones that must be considered, if only for a balanced view at the dilemma.

In Mumbai-based newspaper Mid-Day, former West Indian great Michael Holding wrote, "I am sorry, but I truly believe that if an example had been set at the first instance in Jamshedpur, it would not have recurred. To make matters worse, this game has been awarded to India. No doubt more than likely they would have gone on and won, but who suffers for the crowd disturbance?"

How exactly does awarding the match to India, by the very legitimate rules and regulations already in place, make matters worse? Holding explains, tongue firmly in cheek, "Very shortly, spectators will be seen going into one-day venues with computers with the Duckworth/Lewis formula in hand and constantly keeping in touch with the proceedings. Whenever their team is in front via that method, they will just throw a few missiles, get the game called off and their team ends up the winner."

On the other hand, if one does not follow the already established systems - in this case the Duckworth/Lewis method - what can be done? Many have been quick to suggest - subtly and otherwise - that the authorities should award the match to the touring side, thereby suitably shaming spectators and setting an example. But apart from being cruel to the players of the home side, who have little or no control over idiots in a crowd, this method would only serve make a potentially incendiary situation positively diabolical.

Imagine, moreover, a group of touring spectators - say a large, boisterous group, as touring spectators often can be. Would Holding's solution not give them the perfect opportunity to nudge their own side on when conditions are gruelling, the play tough and the outlook bleak?

But the cricket world has just heard the beginning of this issue, one can be sure of that. To look at the silver lining where none seems present, the crowd trouble in three consecutive games has at least forced the International Cricket Council to take this seriously. As flustered Board secretary Nair said, with a twist of unintended irony, "Of one thing you can be sure; the authorities are not going to be silent spectators in this matter."