June 28, 2001

The dilemma of pitch invasion

The horrible scenes of pitch invasions at various venues during the NatWest Series not only destroyed the charm of the game but also brought shame on the conduct of Asian origin immigrants in England and even tarnished the performance of the team they were supporting. It is generally felt that such behaviour by a small group of miscreants can turn into mob violence if not properly dealt with. This may have been one reason for the British police and the ground authorities showing undue generosity towards the intruders.

The crowd invade, the security staff attempt to cope and the players flee the field
Photo © CricInfo
The ugly scenes at Headingley, in a Pakistan - England contest, which Pakistan was comfortably winning, had to be abandoned when Pakistan was only 4 runs short with 6 wickets in hand due to intrusion by an over-excited mob of Pakistan supporters. An otherwise glorious victory for a Waqar Younis led Pakistan team turned into a 'courtesy win' because Alec Stewart had to 'concede the match' and earn, possibly an unwanted distinction, of the first captain in international cricket history to concede a match.

Setting aside that Pakistan was to win easily anyway, the media and Alec Stewart's statement "it had to be done purely on the grounds of players and umpires safety" took a lot away from the win and more so from Waqar's 7 wicket performance. It was a brave but a sad decision for English cricket but all due to the stupid ground invasion by the local Pakistan supporters. Worse, in an effort to control the situation a steward was injured and taken to hospital.

An injured security guard is carried from the Leeds pitch after being assaulted
Photo © CricInfo
The media made little noise about the fact that these 'fans' were local citizens and subject to British law, albeit their ancestors may have come from Pakistan. A sad example of rowdyism - Asian style!

Trent Bridge, Nottingham, where Waqar Younis sent the Aussies reeling off with a magical haul of 6 wickets and carved a 36 run morale boosting victory for Pakistan, was the next theatre of miscreant activity. Their thrust on the ground and the use of firecrackers suspended play with the Australians walking off the field for safety.

A repeat of 'enthusiasm violence' occurred again after the conclusion of the final at Lords when the Australians were celebrating their golden victory. Everyone should have accepted, with grace, the fact that Australia convincingly won the trophy but the miscreants did not. Someone hurled a beer can that hit Michael Bevan in the face, spoiling the joy of a victory that Australia had earned through a superb display. To utter disappointment of the spectators the remains of a grand ceremony had to be shifted inside. Again an example of a few 'people' spoiling the fun of cricket for the masses.

The incidences of rowdyism witnessed during the NatWest Series are likely to have serious repercussions on the conduct of international matches, specially in countries having a sizeable population of Asian immigrants. The situation has already put the cricket authorities on the alert. Rightly so, considering the players' safety as supreme, the ECB is thinking of shifting the award ceremonies indoors and showing it to the spectators on the giant TV screen.

Serious crowd disorder breaks out at Trent Bridge
Photo © CricInfo
The game cannot flourish unless it is played in a safe, cordial and conducive atmosphere. The safety of players and umpires necessitates foolproof security measures. The above move may not be good for the real fans but a compulsion to safeguard against untoward incidents. Some other measures can also be considered. In Australia people are fined heavily for going on the field of play. Why can't the same be done in England?

England is a well-disciplined society because the people are subjected to strict rule of law. Although the British police do not carry weapons but I have often seen them carrying batons. If the stewards carry the same on the ground rather than being empty handed, it will certainly have a deterrent effect on the miscreants and law-breakers. There is also a move to legislate a change in British laws to allow for greater powers in crowd control to the authorities.

Let us not stretch basic human rights too far just to allow the mischief mongers spoil the entertainment of thousands of spectators who not only spend money but also leave their work aside to come watch a cricket match. The troublemakers need to be dealt with an iron hand rather than the courtesy being presently shown to them.

In the sub-continent we are well used to seeing fans behind steel fencing with a huge presence of police. Even these measures do not entirely succeed as we have witnessed fires breaking out, hurling of stones and other missiles. Fencing may not be quite the kind of scene one would want to see adopted in England but certainly something to ponder, lest more serious incidents occur.

These incidents have already sounded danger bells in South Africa. The Organizing Committee of the World Cup 2003 has therefore decided to adopt a policy of 'zero tolerance' towards pitch invasion. Among measures under consideration are: the use of dogs as a visual deterrent, erection of temporary moats and the use of swimming pool netting to entangle the invaders.

I am glad they are not as generous as the British.