Saturday, April 2, 2011

Wankhede blues

Here's a piece I wrote for Time Out after watching this match at Wankhede stadium five and a half years ago. Though not a fan of the IPL, I acknowledge it improved the spirit of spectatorship in India by mixing players from different nations and drawing more women to grounds.


The BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) has botched its organisational duties in a variety of ways. A strict rotation policy has awarded matches to cities where it’s sure to rain. The board’s avarice has meant a preference for day-night games, though evening dew gives the side batting second an unfair advantage. There’s been chaos in the allotment of telecast rights.
The Mumbai Cricket Association’s as clueless as cricket’s national authority. The section of Wankhede stadium where I sat watching India play South Africa was packed at least 60% over capacity. Obviously, counterfeiters had gained an inside track on the ticket design. The scoreboard -- installed a few years ago at tremendous expense -- failed to function. The stadium, as characterless a pile of concrete as you’ll ever see, appeared in desperate need of an upgrade. Inadequate water supply, dirty toilets, cracked benches: that’s what my 900 rupee north stand ticket afforded me.
Perhaps we get the administrators we deserve. Indians are, without doubt, the most unsporting spectators in the world. Loutish behaviour, such as hurling projectiles at fielders, has led to stringent restrictions on patrons. All objects that can be thrown and cause damage, such as water bottles, are now prohibited in stadiums. This straitjacketing disproportionately turns off those who are usually well behaved, like women and senior citizens,. In the north stand at Wankhede males outnumbered females at least 20 to 1 and there were no elderly fans at all.
The crowd gratuitously chanted “Kallis is a bastard”, heckled Andre Nel, and fell silent each time the visitors scored or took a wicket. There was the usual racism, no less shameful because it is customary. Black players from the West Indies and England have endured taunts in the past, and it was Makhaya Ntini’s turn last Monday. Indian players didn’t escape either. Dravid was briefly booed even as he methodically guided India to the target. Winning, it seems, is not sufficient. Without a steady supply of boundaries -- it doesn’t matter if they’re wild hoicks or streaky edges -- the Indian viewer gets bored.
Television foreshortens sport, cuts it up into pieces, makes it look easy. Watching it live, feeling the real pace of the ball, ought to bring home the worth of well executed strokes, make the game less utilitarian. But we seem to prefer cricket in two dimensions even when watching it in three.
So what’s to be done? There are too many issues here for me to consider individually, but I’ve a couple of suggestions. Seat numbers printed on tickets must be taken seriously. Insisting that ticket-holders sit at allotted spots will deter fakers and ease crowd control. The BCCI could study how the Hindi film industry transformed its audience profile after the dire days of the late eighties. It could also emulate measures taken by football associations in Europe to curb hooliganism and racism. Instead, I’m sure it will slumber on until a stampede or riot takes lives, and then jerk a knee.

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