When cops gave and took stick

Updated: 02 April, 2020 08:13 IST | Clayton Murzello | Mumbai

There are controversial and funny connections between lathis and cricket & it's not just the wood factor used in sticks, stumps and bats

Picture for representation purpose
Picture for representation purpose

Clayton MurzelloThe Internet is flooded with video clips of the police force wielding their lathis or polycarbonate sticks at those citizens who don't come up with a good reason for being outdoors during the Coronavirus-caused countrywide lockdown.

One's heart goes out to the fellows who cop it (pun intended) even as you wonder why they are out there if not to purchase essentials or attend to emergencies.

Some of the 'shots' by the cops resemble those of Gordon Greenidge or Virender Sehwag more than touch artists like Mark Waugh or GR Viswanath. All the same, they have a deflating effect on the receiver.

There is a connection between lathis and cricket and I'm not referring to the timber factor. The lathi is a key tool to manage crowds and the weapon gave rise to several crowd controversies in Indian cricket.

For starters, let me provide a couple of humourous examples of the use of the lathi. It concerns former England off-spinner Pat Pocock. During the fifth and final Test at the Brabourne Stadium of the 1972-73 series, the affable Pocock, fielding at the pavilion end of the ground, borrowed a policeman's cap and stick. He wielded the lathi to amuse the crowd as the Test headed to a draw. The result earned India a hat-trick of Test series wins after the twin triumphs in West Indies and England in 1971.

Incredibly, Pocock was part of David Gower's Test side for their 1984-85 tour to India as a 38-year-old veteran and the crowd had their share of amusement through the fun-loving Londoner then too. Pocock, nicknamed Percy, managed to borrow headgear like the solar hat and a policeman's helmet during the series and the crowds loved it.

In the Kolkata Test of that same series, middle-order batsman Allan Lamb clowned around with a policeman's helmet and stick to regale the Eden Gardens crowd.

However, there was nothing humourous about the 1966-67 India v West Indies Test at Kolkata, where the number of spectators exceeded the amount of tickets sold and what emerged was only mayhem. The lathi can have a debilitating effect on a day's play. It contributed to no cricket on January 1, 1967. Australian Dr Richard Cashman, wrote in Patrons, Players and the Crowd that the police "lathi-charged some spectators and then beat up one individual who attempted to remonstrate with them for throwing teargas grenades into a packed stand. An infuriated mob responded with missiles, lit bonfires on the field of chairs, benches and debris and set the awnings of stands alight, dug stumps and bamboo canes into the pitch, then set three buses in the neighbourhood on fire." Play resumed the following day and the Test ended in West Indies' favour. Conrad Hunte, the West Indies opener, had the presence of mind to save the two flags from burning. He volunteered to go up himself but was prevented by a policeman, who did it himself. Wisden rightly called Hunte, "a figure of moral authority in the wider world."

Towards the end of Day Three in the third India v New Zealand Test at Hyderabad in October 1969, a spectator ran on to the pitch as India were shockingly bowled out for 89 by the Kiwis. Cricket writer Rajan Bala in Kiwis and Kangaroos wrote that a home guard struck the lad on his temple. On seeing the invader lying prostrate, spectators at the East Stand barged on to the field which was soon flooded with chairs. It led to another lathicharge. The Test that was already affected by a cyclonic storm which ruined Day Two, ended in a draw; the series 1-1.

Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium's biggest incident-filled Test was its inaugural one in 1975 — the fifth and final Test of a series — locked at 2-2. When Clive Lloyd reached his double century on the second day, 19-year-old Yogesh Maganlal Bharot (as mentioned by the late Sunder Rajan in his book on the 1974-75 series) ran on to the field to congratulate the West Indies skipper towards the tea interval. Lloyd was close enough to write about the incident which led to no further play for the day, in Living for Cricket: "In front of everyone they (policemen) used their long bamboo sticks, the lathis, with a vengeance on the poor boy and incensed the crowd to such an extent that, by tea, there was a full-scale riot which left the place looking like a battlefield."

Watching the crowd go beserk, Ramji Dharod, a local cricketer, accompanied by his friend Bhagwat, walked towards the pitch and pacified the irate spectators who wanted to damage the strip because they felt very strongly about how Bharot was beaten up. The Test resumed the following day and Lloyd won the series 3-2.

Cashman wrote that the policeman who beat up Bharot was suspended by the Chief Minister (Vasantrao Naik), who said at the time that the policeman shouldn't have got physical with the young spectator.

Having said that, intruders don't do any good to the players who they reach out to. Sunil Gavaskar experienced this sort of behaviour many a time. There is this splendid image captured by Adrian Murrell of Gavaskar being garlanded and surrounded by over-zealous fans when he reached his century during the Bangalore Test against England in 1981. English writer Scyld Berry used Murrell's image in his book on the series entitled Cricket Wallah and the caption read: "In Bangalore fans galore tried to say it with flowers when Gavaskar reached his century; the second slowest for India in Test cricket. Then the Central Reserve Police moved in, one raising his 'lathi' for a classic straight-drive."

Fortunately or unfortunately there is no video clip of that on the Internet.

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

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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First Published: 02 April, 2020 07:01 IST

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