June 10, 2013

Respect the fan

Indian cricket is where it is today because of its supporters, but their dedication is being tried by the unsavouriness surrounding the game

On a charming train ride from Manchester to Cardiff, livened by a gang of spirited Indian fans and cups of coffee, a question that provokes unease pops into my head: Who should Indian cricket be liable to?

The investors and business houses who pump in money, and in turn depend upon market dynamics and TRPs? The impact of these entities on cricket is what makes the game in India look pretty among its poor cousins, hockey and football. This particular answer may seem valid, but it is not entirely correct.

The young men on board, proudly wearing their Team India jerseys and animatedly discussing the prospect of India v South Africa, grab my attention. One of them comes up for a chat. He has spent a fortune - £100 for a ticket to the game, in addition to his train fare and hotel stay. He and his friends have also already bought tickets to all of India's games. They tell me that they also pay through the nose to watch every match India play on TV. That's a huge financial and emotional investment - in spite of the muck of fixing.

The money chain starts from here, with the fans. It is they who bring in the moolah, which in turn makes India's board and cricketers the richest in the world. Fortunately for Indian cricket, there are hundreds of millions of such fans across the globe. That so many people watch India play ensures that money keeps coming into the BCCI's coffers.

A cricketer may hardly ever give a thought to how a fan makes it to the stands. While players fly business class and stay in five-star hotels, the ones who fill the stadia to watch them find the cheapest mode of transport, and stay in bed-and-breakfasts. While players are ferried about in comfortable buses, fans stand in never-ending queues to get into venues. Long after we've wrapped up the game and have begun to comfortably unwind in the hotel, these people start their tedious journeys back home.

They might moan and groan when India lose, but come the following game, they are back, egging their side on. A cricketer has to keep his side of the bargain - which is to play good cricket. And clean cricket.

The latest spot-fixing scandal has shaken the core of this arrangement, for as much as the fan wants to witness a game full of theatre, he doesn't want it to be scripted. For that he can always go to the cinema. How unpleasant it would be for cricket lovers to begin to view every no-ball or wide with cynicism and doubt. The raw, unadulterated passion with which cricket was revered seems unfortunately to have become a thing of the past; but still, the lovers of the game - like all lovers - continue to be committed. It's a fascinating dichotomy.

While we must assume the players involved in the recent scandal are innocent till proven guilty, one fan in the group on my train, said he didn't want to look back at the final moments of India's World Twenty20 win, for the man who took the catch to dismiss Misbah-ul-Haq had betrayed his faith. The fact that this fan was still travelling 300km to watch India play spoke volumes about his love for the game and his team. That love ought to be respected.

While the average fan may be happy to live in denial - which explains the numbers for the final week of the IPL (despite the controversy) - it's important Indian cricket does not take him for granted. There have been many who, following the 2000 match-fixing scandal, stopped watching cricket completely. A hero like Hansie Cronje going down was too much for them to take.

India definitely don't want to push its fans to the wall. It's time the cricketing fraternity realises that the biggest stakeholder in the game is the fan. The one who is willing to bear the scorching heat, queue up, buy tickets, support his team and cheer his idols - in return for an honest game. That's not asking for too much, is it?

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ankul Prakash on June 11, 2013, 0:37 GMT

    I completely agree with your views .we fans expect the cricketers to play fair and competitive game.

  • Kalyan on June 10, 2013, 17:59 GMT

    sure the fans command respect, but as other posters here have said, they should demand it if it's not forthcoming. no one would enjoy playing in front of empty stands, and no one would make money or otherwise enjoy conducting such matches, so the most effective way to demand the respect you command is to boycott matches that deserve to. not just the fixed or potentially fixed one (for you rarely, if ever, happen to know of them beforehand unless you're the one who's doing the fixing!!!) but the ones that are conducted in a haphazard or deliberately painful manner - free tickets being given away to those who anyway don't turn up to watch while denying genuine fans who'd pay to watch, no proper toileting or food facilities at the stadiums, no proper parking arrangements, confiscating stuff that doesn't conform to advertisers' or sponsors' regulations, and so on. if we don't stand up for ourselves, we get what we deserve (or the other way round!!).

  • Dummy4 on June 10, 2013, 16:41 GMT

    Come on, its been known for years the last group the BCCI or the players care about is the fans. Not once did Sachin Tendulkar give a press conference in Australia in fact Dhoni sent out Wriddhiman Saha to do a press conference when he can't speak english fluently. Contrast this with the Australians who have their players on twitter, constantly at press conferences, interact with the fans for photos and CA who has a transparent process. Indian cricketers need to have a look at tennis players. They are the best at fan interaction. Rafael Nadal even address social media in his french open thank you speech!

  • Cricket on June 10, 2013, 13:34 GMT

    Therein lies the conundrum - we fans are ones who swell the coffers of BCCI and make the players rich and continue to support them through thick and thin whether the team is winning or losing, whether the performance was good or pathetic whether corruption is there or not, whether Tendulkar retires or not and son. So how we can complain they take us for granted when we give them every reason to do so? The BCCI is filled with business people whose main driver is business and not cricket. We have to talk to them in their language to make them and the players understand what we want and that means voting with our feet if we want change. But we Indian supporters don't want to risk missing magical moments on the field of play, such as those provided by the 1983 WC winning team or Sachin at the start of his career so we will continue to follow the team and the BCCI and the players will continue to make fools of us and we will continue to accept it. This is nothing new Aakash.

  • Dummy4 on June 10, 2013, 11:55 GMT

    IPL has brought about the Bollywood model into Cricket. Bollywood has existed for decades, without any transparency or accountability on how movies are financed, how much actors are paid etc. At this point, the ownership of teams is also like that. As someone mentioned, the teams owned by businessmen in the IPL are also not exactly paragons of governance. If BCCI and Indian cricket have to stay with IPL and Indian team, then the Government needs to get to the bottom of the money trail and take harsh actions; Unfortunately, the investigations are headed in the wrong direction. In Chennai, people had to stand in Q for 2 hours or more, just to get in into the stadium. online reservation was offered for season tickets, while day tickets had to be collected from the stadium. However, for IPL all kinds of tickets were available online. Like the classical manager, BCCI has the face to themselves and the backside to the fans. Let us see how far it goes.

  • Dummy4 on June 10, 2013, 11:07 GMT

    Its like in every sport in every country. Fans dont watch the game as a favor to players or national team or any club. They watch to be entertained, have that thrill in life that they think is missing from their life, or to simply enjoy with friends, family, or even to pass the time. There are viewers of WWE who know that the events, fights are staged but they watch nevertheless, . Its a two way thing,

  • Ganesh on June 10, 2013, 10:53 GMT

    Much as it may sound harsh, it has to be said that the Indian fan too is responsible for the mess. The BCCI knows that no matter how much of sleaze and match fixing, people will spend their hard earned money and turn up at the stadium in their thousands on the day of the match. The fact that there were 50,000 spectators in Eden Gardens on the day of the IPL final, just a few days after the match fixing scam came out, only proves this. Srinivasan even used this large turnout to justify his continuation in office. If the fans were more proactive in demanding accountability, and boycotted the IPL games by staying away from the stadium, it would send a very strong message to the BCCI and force them into taking action. But the Indian fans will never do this, and as a result, everyone takes them for granted.

  • Dummy4 on June 10, 2013, 9:59 GMT

    The Love for the Game in India and within Indians staying abroad is much higher to get affected - rather they do NOT have much of a choice as no other sport gives the avg India that feeling of being on top of the world.....Recent events have surely dented the fan - but still cricket remains the NO 1 Sport for India by far - the day some other sport comes to a level where India starts performing consistently well on word stage and thats a watched sport liek football or tenis or hockey only then this 2nd most populated country will let cricket be where it is - as most of the fans know why Chennai Super Kings reaches finals in all IPLs but cricket still remains the most entertaining sport hence they are there to watch .....