Clayton Murzello: Ugly side of cricket spectatorship

Feb 15, 2018, 06:16 IST | Clayton Murzello

Quick punitive action on offensive spectators by ICC and ground authorities shouldn't be only for racial abuse, but other hecklers too

A spectator racially abused South Africa leg-spinner Imran Tahir during the fourth one-day international between India and South Africa in Johannesburg. Pic/AFP
A spectator racially abused South Africa leg-spinner Imran Tahir during the fourth one-day international between India and South Africa in Johannesburg. Pic/AFP

Clayton MurzelloAMIDST an engrossing one-day international series fought between India and South Africa, there emerged a news item about South African leg-spinner Imran Tahir revealing that he was racially abused.

Imran copped it during the fourth one-day international at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on Saturday and it was all the more disappointing to read that the offender was an Indian fan. Thanks to a zero-tolerance anti-racism code, the spectator was identified by Imran and ejected from the Wanderers.

It would have taken an enormous amount of patience for Imran to show restraint. Hitting back at the fan literally would have been out of order, but understandable to an extent. South Africa's team manager Mohammed Moosajee said that Tahir was abused throughout the match in which he was involved as 12th man.

Hopefully, quick punitive action is not restricted to racial slurs because spectators can trouble players with other utterances too. A bit of humour is fine, but when that transforms into taunts - even non-racial in nature - it's very unfair to the players. After all, cricket is their livelihood and they, unlike the spectators, do not turn up to have a good time.

Seeing a player targeted from the stands is no fun for other spectators either. I remember going to the Wankhede Stadium to watch my first Ranji Trophy match in March 1986. A Ravi Shastri-led Bombay were playing Kapil Dev's Haryana in the Ranji Trophy semi-final. My hero Sunil Gavaskar was not playing in the game, so that was disappointment number one. The second was that the Bombay selectors did not include young Sanjay Manjrekar, whom I was keen to watch. Then, Ravinder Chadha (who became the Indian team's physio in the late 1990s) scored an unbeaten 159 to help Haryana post an imposing 423. While spinners Shastri and Kiran Mokashi laboured on, Balvinder Singh Sandhu was sent to field on the boundary.

The spectators 'enlivened' things by heckling Sandhu and later littered the outfield with fruit. I felt very sorry for Sandhu. After all, he was a 1983 World Cup hero. Sandhu was very patient with the crowd and kept to himself and his fielding duties. It's a memory that sticks in my mind. As does one-drop batsman Alan Sippy's classy innings of 61 after Kapil's triple strikes had Bombay reeling at 22 for three. Mumbai eventually lost the game.

One does not have to be on the field to be at the receiving end of spectator-sledging, as Dilip Vengsarkar discovered. The former India captain was watching the Mumbai v Punjab 1994-95 Ranji Trophy final from the press box of the Wankhede Stadium when a couple of spectators kept teasing him from the Garware Pavilion. Vengsarkar tried to ignore them for a while, but his frustration got the better of him and we soon saw him make his way to the adjoining Mumbai Cricket Association managing committee box and then jump over to the Garware Pavilion.

He finally caught up with his persecutors and they were soon on their way home. Vengsarkar was in his third season as a retired cricketer, but the agility he displayed in nabbing them was admirable. There have been quite a few ugly incidents at Wankhede Stadium. Yuvraj Singh was once harassed by a fan at the pavilion end and decided to hunt for him after the day's play in a Ranji Trophy game. Andrew Symonds was racially abused and a few West Indians have been targeted as well.

There have been some fans with a sense of humour. Like the one who was surprised by West Indies skipper Rohan Kanhai's decision to re-introduce his pace bowler Uton Dowe in the attack despite him being hit by Australian opener Keith Stackpole in the 1973 Kingston Test. "Kanhai," the Jamaican fan exclaimed, "Haven't you heard the 11th commandment? Dowe shall not bowl."

The fan who teased Inzamam-ul-Haq about his weight during an India vs Pakistan match at Toronto in 1997 wasn't being funny. Inzamam jumped over a fence and attacked him. Luckily, the bat which Inzy called for was not used on the spectator. Australian great Greg Chappell used his, to whack a streaker on his buttocks a few times in the Auckland Test of the 1976-77 series in New Zealand.

This was the third invasion and Chappell, along with Rick McCosker, was trying to build a partnership. Not long after sending the streaker scurrying back to the stands, Chappell was run out and later said that the noise emanating from the stands when the streaker was arrested caused him not to hear his partner's call. Chappell won't forget that Auckland streaker just as it will take some years for Imran to well and truly put those racist comments made by a fan last Saturday, behind him. But he won many friends when he tweeted his gratitude for the support he received.

Imran's words, "I'm a very simple person who believes in sharing love to everyone regardless of country, colour or religion," might even move his offender to offer a genuine apology.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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