June 29, 2001

Pitch invasion control - Asian Style

My previous article on pitch invasions was mainly on incursions during the NatWest Series in England. As this is a very serious subject I feel it needs to be discussed in a wider perspective and dealt with in a positive and practical manner. Ground invasions coupled with various types hooliganism by spectators are an international phenomenon, which apart from cricket jeopardise other sports activities too.

Soccer matches are perhaps the biggest venues of hooliganism. There have been many incidents where some players and referees were trapped in a stampede and mauled to the point of death. There are common instances of `outside the ground' rowdyism too when fans from one country go abroad.

In cricket, at least so far, it is fortunate we have not experienced such a mad frenzy leading to serious injuries or death in any of the matches.

The standard of spectators' discipline in Asia being much lower than other countries the strikes, protests and agitations are a regular feature of daily life. The law-enforcing agencies are powerful, well trained and better equipped to deal with bitter situations than their European counterparts.

I was surprised that in England, there is no law to control mob violence on a cricket field. According to a news item, the England Cricket Board (ECB) is `pursuing the line of trying to get legislation to make it an offence to run on to the pitch'. After the new legislation is drafted, it will need various parliamentary approvals before it can take effect. According to an ECB spokesman, the legislation is likely to be in place before the summer season next year.

Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh already have their procedures in place. The stadiums are in full control of the Cricket Boards or affiliated bodies while the civil administration joins in to help the organisers in the maintenance of law and order during international matches or whenever required.

There are no special rules to deal with pitch invasion. The laws governing mob violence, causing disturbance, creating lawlessness or other problems of this nature are applied judiciously to deal with the situation. Sometimes, rather novel steps are taken that may make English cricket administrators shudder to even think about!

Tendulkar, Dalmiya and the Police officials quietening the crowd, India v Pakistan, Asia Test Championship 1999, Eden Gardens, Calcutta, 16-20
Photo © CricInfo

During the last Asian Test Cricket Championship, a crucial match between India and Pakistan at Eden Gardens, a violent crowd disturbance erupted. Repeated requests by the organisers had no salutary effects on the unruly spectators. Play was stopped for a while and the teams called back to the dressing rooms. Then, with the help of security forces, the administration cleared the stadium of a massive crowd of around 100,000 people. Play was resumed with no spectators at all and the match completed with Pakistan emerging victorious. This is what we call, the control of a situation `Asian style'.

In Asia too, there were no fears of ground invasion till the mid-70s and the fences used to be only 3-ft high. But in the 1978-79 season, when Pakistan - India cricket relations were restored after a lapse of 17 years and India visited Pakistan, the fences were raised to 8-ft. Huge crowds were expected since the two teams had not faced each other for so many years. With unprecedented enthusiasm among the fans, the chances of untoward incidents were there. The raising of fences was thus a step in the right direction, one that has worked magnificently till today, relieving the organisers of big headaches.

With the erection of high fences the problem of ground invasion has been solved but still a few high-spirited daredevils jump over the fence to be promptly hauled up by the stewards. Local cricket fans being somewhat entertainment starved, come to enjoy cricket matches fully prepared. They carry flags, banners, crackers, drums, horns and radios to express their enthusiasm. Taking their pleasure away by subjecting them to unnecessary restrictions may amount to buying trouble.

Chandigarh (India) has solved the problem in a very novel manner. In one of the most modern cricket stadiums, built under the personal supervision of IS Bindra, former President of BCCI, there are no high fences. To prevent ground invasion they have dug a 6-ft deep trench (moat) all around except the authorized places of entry. The method allows the fans a clear view of the game and at the same time prevents them running on.

In the final analysis, I feel Asian methods of crowd control are practical, acceptable and easy to implement. The power available to the ground authorities and civil administration to control the situation is also legitimate.

Even the new habit of hurling fruit or other missiles onto the ground or aimed at a fielder has now been curtailed by not allowing them to bring such items in. One still sees the odd young cricket fan somehow evade all these measures, and run on to pat his hero on the back, chased by a policeman. Laughter erupts when he, for being sprightlier, eventually manages to evade the constable.