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Missile Programme

As the lowly fan gives vent to his Neanderthal side, the ICC ponders some tough moves More Coverage

Missile Programme
Missile Programme
When an Indian flings something at a visiting cricket team, there's usually no deep philosophy, passion or anger behind his action. There were only innocent smiles on the faces of Shaw's fools in Jamshedpur, Nagpur and Rajkot as they happily wrecked the ODIs against the touring West Indians. It's pointless to even say that in Rajkot India was winning, then why did some people throw bottles, and according to match referee Mike Procter, "a stone too". They throw things because they want to. It's this irrational, low-cost antics of a people that is never really serious about most things in life that the International Cricket Council (ICC) is hoping to fight sitting in London, where they have lane discipline and other First World habits. It's a battle that Indian cricket officials privately admit they may not win at all because some people in the crowds now know that they can actually create history.

That's why Saurashtra Cricket Association president Niranjan Shah said this to Outlook after the abandoned Rajkot match: "What more could we have done? Bottles were not allowed inside, but one 12-year-old boy found one and he threw it. If tomorrow some fellow throws his shoe at the long leg, should we ask all spectators to come bare-foot?" But Procter has a simpler solution. "Policemen inside the stadium should decide whether they want to provide security or watch the match. I don't think they can do both." In many notorious football grounds in England, the stewards stand facing the crowd, but in India it's a bit different. As an unforgettable footage of the historic Calcutta Test against Australia showed, it was a cop who jumped highest in joy, in slow motion, as Glenn McGrath was given out. Despite the fact that policemen failed in Rajkot, as they did in Jamshedpur and Nagpur, Shah says: "Procter overreacted. I gave all the assurances I could. Rajkot's commissioner of police personally gave his assurance. Dalmiya himself called. But Procter had made up his mind."

But the match referee doesn't think so. He told Outlook: "There was not just one incident there as they make it out to be. There were three. First, a West Indian 12th man was hit by a missile. Then Drakes was hit by a heavy object. It hit him on the cheek, soon after he got Ganguly's wicket. A stone was thrown at Hinds. So I don't consider what happened there was minor. I was assured in all the three places that there will be no disturbances. But we know that all the three matches were affected."

In the past six years, at least five matches at Indian venues against Sri Lanka, Pakistan and West Indies have been marred and disrupted by crowd trouble. Nobody still has a grip of how it keeps happening despite the ban on taking in bottles and other objects inside the stadia. Now there are whispers of bookies being involved in the disruption of last week's Rajkot match, but Procter says: "It seems far-fetched."

Even before the match referee dispatched a highly-confidential report to the ICC, its chief executive officer, Malcolm Speed, issued a statement saying, "The ICC has been in contact with the bcci... and is now in the process of seeking a full explanation of today's unacceptable events in Rajkot." Though Jagmohan Dalmiya issued his own statement saying he has even requested chief minister Narendra Modi to ensure high-quality security for the following matches, a top bcci official says: "Frankly, we are not concerned about what the ICC thinks. We are only worried about the series passing off without another incident. From now on, even a small incident can stop a match. Worse, the crowd knows that." The issue is becoming serious as the ICC is considering assuming powers that it doesn't have right now, to disqualify some centres from hosting international matches.This will result in a tight financial slap for small grounds like Rajkot. And then there is a genuine fear of the series being abandoned if such incidents recur. To which Procter says: "It's too early to say (whether the series will be abandoned) but we will take any step to protect the players."

Says Prof Ratnakar Shetty, joint honorary secretary of the Mumbai Cricket Association: "Small centres do not have experience in crowd management. The reason why Mumbai's Wankhede has a better record is that we just let the police draw all the guidelines. Even food cannot be taken in unless in a transparent packet. Fruits too have to be sliced before allowed inside." But statistician H.R. Gopalakrishna points out: "It's not as though Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore have never had crowd trouble. They are only better than other places."

Clearly, crowd control is the biggest headache facing cricket administrators. As Procter says: "The security at the airports and the hotels is excellent. What worries me is crowd control." And there seem to be no easy solutions to prevent recurrence of such trouble: some of the more severe suggestions include banning troublemaking venues and even penalising the host team for crowd trouble. Procter doesn't think penalising the host team is a good idea. "A team cannot be punished for crowd behaviour," he says.

The only saving grace: fans always empty their bottles before throwing it in India. Economics, you see.
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