Whats with the Indo-Pak cricket fan??

Posted: March 19, 2007 in cricket, Dhoni, fans, india, inzamam, pakistan, woolmer

Following the losses of India and Pakistan in Saturday’s games at the World Cup, a whole host of reactions have been seen.

1. Inzamam has announced his retirement from ODIs.

2. Fans have burnt effigies of Dhoni and have also damaged an under-construction house of his.

3. Fans have come on TV to demand that the plot alloted to Dhoni be taken back by the government.

4. Fans have also suggested that if India does not go further in the World Cup, the team should not be allowed to stay in India (??!).

and of course, the worst reaction of them all:
5. Bob Woolmer, the coach of the Pakistan team, dies.

I have to clarify that the last mentioned bit of news, may have NOTHING directly connected to the Pakistan loss. Having said that, considering that it happened so close to Pak’s crashing out of the world cup against all expectations, and recognising that Woolmer was quite healthy otherwise, it makes one wonder if the stress of the loss contributed in some or the other way, to his death.

There have been other strong issues that have seemingly got disproportionate attention, only thanks to the fans’ involvement:
1. Saurav Ganguly’s dropping from the team, accompanied by anger against Greg Chappell, effigy burning, matter reaching West Bengal and Indian mainstream political levels, etc.

2. Demand to drop Sehwag, defense against which was offered by none other than Sharad Pawar, President of BCCI. Completely unwarranted, uncalled for, but juicy mainstream media bytes, that the fans would lap up!

What is it about the Indo-Pak cricket scenario that spurns such strong reactions? There are no easy answers, but some thoughts on the subject are as under:

1. We do not have any other ‘release’ for our strong pent up emotions. We may feel equally strongly about our political issues, but normally, the frustrations with the political system are not felt in one go, but over the years. So there is no one strong moment when everyone unites to release their frustrations against the political system. Bollywood rejections are done, simply by empty theatres. No other sport in the country has anywhere close to the following, that cricket does. Then, cricket it is, that serves to be a release of sorts, of our pent up emotions, and all of our frustrations. For the common citizen, cricket is his own proxy of battle and victory and world leadership. When the team does not get there, it seems that he has not got the victory. It is taken that personally. And hence the vent.

2. The sudden increase in emoluments to the cricketers has not helped. The fact is that the huge growth of media and television reach, the accompanying increase in advertising moolah coming into the sport, has meant a consequential benefit to the cricketers providing the entertainment. It had to happen, and is completely justified as well. Just the fact that the movement to an increasing pay packet for the cricketers has been sharp and sudden, and has given a lot of media attention. Those who don’t get the fact that the cricketers are getting just rewards, perceive this jump as unjustified, and that ‘if they are paid so much, they must perform each time they go out on the field’. It almost feels as if the cricketers are getting paid from taxpayers’ money, which of course, is completely baseless.

3. The extremes that fans go to, like the way they damaged Dhoni’s house and which was visible all over television, or the way they have done similar damage to Kaif’s house in the past, the police can certainly stop the damages. If they want to. But do they want to? I don’t know what can be the political factor in this, but is appears that the local leadership almost lets the fans do their part. Let them go and vent out their anger at Dhoni. First of all, I completely and totally sympathise with Dhoni (and Kaif, in the past). They have not even been the ‘enemy number 1’, if you will. There were worse offenders to India’s loss/es. That apart, how can the scenes be visible on TV, and the local police does not even come and try to stop the mayhem? Does the local political leadership believe that ‘let the citizens take up small issues like these, and allow us to do our own money making undisturbed’? Or are these incidents inspired and motivated by small time local leadership itself, enjoying political protection, and thereby getting their own two minutes of fame, to assert their local leadership, via prime time television? I wonder..

4. Betting. Yes, I suspect that India and Pakistan contribute to the largest betting in cricket. Officially it is banned, at least in India. Yet, its clear that its happening, undoubtedly. And big time too. Betting on each ball (‘will it be a dot ball’ and such), on each over, on each player’s score, on the winning margins, on just about all aspects of the game. Its a major gambling pot, and from the ancient times, our culture has had gambling as an intricate part (think Yuddhisthir gambling away Draupadi, amongst other things!). With the high stakes involved, lot of money exchanging hands, on an apparently un-influencable set of events, there is a tendency to see if money CAN influence the events. Which is why most betting scandals connected to cricket have their roots in India or Dubai (Indo-Pak melting pot). Do these betting centres influence fan ire? Do they vent out the anger of their personal monetary losses on the cricketers? Could well be so.

Such strong reactions are not seen in more mature markets like England, Australia, South Africa. They are also not seen in Sri Lanka, which would be expected to have a similar culture as Indo-Pak. That Sri Lanka did not come from the original undivided India, does it make a difference to its attitude and culture in such respects? Again, I am not so sure. I do not also see such reactions in West Indies. There, I suppose, there are other sports like basketball and perhaps, soccer as well, that give the fans enough to follow, and partisan forces find their own balance, as a result.

I am quite aghast when things reach the level that they reach in our countries – damage to Dhoni’s house, or Woolmer’s death or Inzamam’s retirement, being what come to my mind. When will the fans in India and Pakistan look to this as a game, and nothing more? Fine, you can make coffee table discussion on the subject, perhaps even animated ones. Maybe fans can have strong arguments about their respective favorites. But hey, know where to stop. Don’t take your anger to the streets, man.

The biggest reaction that fans can give to the sport, if they feel like rejecting it, is to stop watching the games. The TRPs will fall, and the endorsements will go down, and the players will know that only performance will give them their rich dividends. However that being a long term strategy, meanwhile, fans find it easier to burn effigies.

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