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

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