Guwahati's standing as an international venue is under serious threat in the aftermath of the fifth India-England ODI where crowd trouble erupted when the umpires called off play because of a wet outfield. There was rioting in the Eastern stands and the police had to fire tear gas shells to break up the mob which was breaking down stands, burning paper and plastic, pelting the ground with any missiles they could lay their hands on, and trying to break down the fence dividing the stands from the playing area. The lack of a swift or efficient response from the police cast a blackmark on the venue that will take some erasing.
The real trouble began at approximately 12 noon when Rudi Koertzen and AV Jayaprakash went out to the middle to inspect conditions. There were many areas of concern, including but not restricted to, the bowlers' run-ups, patches in the 30-yard circle, and the outfield. With the sun shining intermittently, fans in the stands could not understand why play was not getting under way. Although from afar the field appeared dry, it was far from fit for an international match, as Cricinfo verified, walking around the ground, up to the pitch, after the match was called off.
"Announcements were being made from time to time on the public address system in Assamese, so the crowd was being kept updated about the situation," Bikash Baruah, honorary secretary of the Assam Cricket Association, said soon after the match was called off. The fans, however, grew restless, and gave vent to their steadily increasing anger, first by throwing water bottles onto the field and burning scraps torn from advertising hoardings, newspapers and placards. When they ran out of bottles they improvised, breaking down wooden advertising panels and uprooting bamboo poles used for scaffoldings. They then proceeded to attack the short walls that hold the fencing, prying loose bricks and further breaking these down to hurl into the field of play.
The crowd lit bonfires, piling on whatever flammable material they could find, and began to throw these lit items over the fence. While all this was happening, the police made brief forays towards the stands causing trouble but retreated swiftly when pelted with missiles. Some policemen were even taking cover behind the sightscreen, using an advertising hoarding as a shield to protect themselves.
The trouble escalated when the crowd began to target the television cameras, in place to cover the match. The television crew moved as many cameras as they could to safer positions, but there was nothing they could do about the two fixed cameras in place square of the wicket to judge run outs. When one of those cameras was totally wrecked by stones and other missiles, the police realised that the situation was fast growing out of control and began considering counter measures. By this time, however, the crowd had literally taken apart one of the six cameras used to generate Hawkeye images. The camera and its stand were dismantled and dumped in a bonfire, totally destroying it.
"We are just in the process of assessing the damage. As the cameras are taken down and our engineers inspect them, we will have a fair idea of how bad the situation is," James Rego, executive producer of Nimbus, said. "At the moment, I can tell you that at least four cameras have been badly damaged." In all 31 cameras are used in the coverage of these ODIs. Whether Nimbus can source replacements in time for the next match is not entirely clear.
"Hawkeye will definitely be affected for the next game as we have to get replacements from England," said Rego. What is an area of immediate concern is the run out cameras, which are High Density cameras and far more expensive than the regular cameras used in other positions. If these are irreparably damaged, and suitable replacements cannot be found in time for the Jamshedpur ODI, on Wednesday, April 12, that match will be affected as the ICC has ruled that international matches cannot take place without the third umpire in place.
"The damage is likely to be in the region of hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Rego, while slamming the security apparatus in place. "This is a total security disaster," he said, referring to the fact that the police were slow to take action even after the first camera went down. It was later revealed that the damage was around 6.5 to 8 million rupees (US$146,000 to 180,000).
The police attempted to defuse the situation by firing tear gas shells into the stand but both shells they fired lobbed well over the stands and out of the ground. Finally the police's hand was forced as a gate in the Eastern stands was breached and fans started to come onto the ground. Then the police charged and grabbed hold of two young men while most of the rioters made good their escape through gate No. 11. The two who failed to make it received a severe thrashing in full view of the media and public as policemen took out their frustration. In the resultant melee, two policemen were also severely injured and later had to be taken away on stretchers.
"The frustration was obvious because the spectators had waited since morning. They were expecting to see some action but once they realised the match had been abandoned, some of them indulged in pelting stones and bottles," said Avinash Joshi, the District Commissioner "It was controlled quickly by the police and we ensured the trouble did not last by taking some effective measures. We have taken two men in custody and will interrogate them before taking further action." The men are likely to be formally charged for destroying government property.