The following is a guest article submitted by Pratyush Khaitan (Forum Name: Pratyush), which he wrote before today's sixth ODI between India and Pakistan. If you want to contribute an article, e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org and if it's good, we'll post it on the main page.
Guest Article: The Indian Fan
17 Apr 2005
By: Sudeep Popat
Scene 1: India is on the verge of losing the world cup semi final to Sri Lanka in 1996 at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata. The crowd can not take it any more. They start creating havoc by throwing oranges and bottles on the field and the match is awarded to Sri Lanka.
Scene 2: Mike Denness, the former England captain bans Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and implements a suspended ban on Sourav Ganguly for a test and fines other Indian players. The multitudes of Indian fans are aghast at their heroes being treated unjustly. The BCCI backs this concern of the Indian fan and the ICC and BCCI are at loggerheads against each other. The test match is eventually played with Sehwag and not recognized as an official one.
Scene 3: The Eden Gardens, Kolkata is only half full for the mother of all battles, an Indo-Pak test match. Tendulkar is given out controversially and the Indian fan is shocked. But no shameful incidents take place in Kolkata this time.
Scene 4: India draws the home test series to Pakisan in Mohali. The crowd cheers Pakistan and appreciates the fact that they have witnessed a good test match.
Scene 5: Chris Broad bans Ganguly for six ODIs in the wake of slow over rates for consecutive matches. There are mild repercussions in Kolkata. No extreme reactions across the country.
The question - has the Indian fan finally matured? Have they finally understood the fact that cricket is just a game and winning and losing are a part of it as shown in Mohali? Has the Indian fan finally come to terms with the fact that going to school and work is more important in their lives than an inning by Tendulkar as shown in Kolkata? Do they realize that Ganguly is human and can indeed make mistakes despite being a hero? It would be great if these conclusions could be made as it would have shown that there is a maturity level now among cricket fans in India which makes them cricket fans more than cricket fanatics than ever before in the past.
Unfortunately, the truth is stranger than fiction. Picture this: Tendulkar's century 5 years ago would make an entire nation happy. A bit more than a decade ago, Kapil Dev breaking Richard Hadlee's world record meant pictures of Kapil were pasted in ever street corner in the country. A year ago, when Sehwag became the first Indian to score 300 runs, the Indians were happy, but they were not over zealous.
However, when India lost the world cup round robin match to Australia, there was outrage among Indian fans for the non performance of 'star' players. The reactions were similar when they lost in the final. When Tendulkar went through a lean period, he was called every thing from some one who is selfish and plays for himself rather than his team to not being a match winner. A decade ago, cricket was religion, Tendulkar was god and cricket was the mantra which would make every Indian fan happy. Kolkata, 1996 was the first time the Indian fan showed dissent at losing a match. However, apart from criticizing Mohammad Azharuddin, the fans were mainly neutral to the performance of the cricketing gods. They didn't complain against Tendulkar, they didn't resort to questioning a lack of sincerity from Anil Kumble or Javagal Srinath.
Cricket remains as passionate in India today as it was 10 years ago. The reason for the passion has changed sadly. It is no longer a religion. It is a soap opera. This means that feats of god like characteristic are not expected from the players any more. They are expected to perform as they are earning so much of money just as film stars are expected to give hits in every movie. There is a show on 'Star News' which is called 'Match Ke Mujrim' which means 'criminals of the match'. The public is asked to vote as to which players they thought were most at fault for the loss the Indian cricket team had on the specific day. Ganguly can get around 80 percent of the votes for the 4th ODI versus Pakistan and Tendulkar can be on the receiving end if he scores lowly on another day.
When the Indian fan applauded the Pakistan team in Mohali, they applauded not because Pakistan had played good cricket, but because they had put on a good 'show'. It was like a good tragedy movie. The Indian fan was vindicated that their team isn't good enough when a young team like Pakistan drew the series versus India at home. A part of the problem is that the vast majority of the fans consider many matches fixed. After the match fixing fiasco, every match is looked on with suspicion. Even the nail biting 4th ODI versus Pakistan was looked on with suspicion. The fans doubt whether there is a sport going on or a live theatre. They don't believe the people playing in front of them are heroes any more. The cricketers are looked upon with suspicion and shots of the players are discussed casting doubts on the genuineness.
When the Kolkata cricket fan thinks he will not go to watch the cricket match as it's more important to go to school or work, he does not do it because he has become more intelligent to give less importance to his passion. The sad part is - cricket is not his passion any more. Accusing the players and making a movie out of a cricket match is. It certainly isn't as important to miss a movie as it would have been to watch gods play. Cricket can wait another day. The personal attacks on the players can be made on another day when there is less work.