Monday, Nov 28, 2022
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Arshdeep Singh And The Intolerant Indian Fan

For all the yoga and pranayama that we do, decency and detachment desert us when watching cricket. Supporters have a right to be angry after a team’s poor performance, but not to abuse or threaten players.

Arshdeep Singh has so far played nine T20 internationals for India.
Arshdeep Singh has so far played nine T20 internationals for India. PTI

It could have been Fakhar Zaman at the receiving end of fan fury. It ended up being Arshdeep Singh. Sports is about fine margins, Sunday at the Asia Cup 2022 reminded us. (More Cricket News)

Before Zaman’s fumbles in the 20th over, commentators Sanjay Manjrekar and Wasim Akram were actually praising the Pakistan fielding against India in their Super Four game at Dubai International Cricket Stadium.

“They’re looking really good today,” Akram began as Ravi Bishnoi’s slice off Haris Rauf innocuously looped towards Zaman near deep point. But the ball spun after landing, Messi-ed past Zaman and rolled to the boundary.

“Uh-oh, spoke too early,” Akram said on air.

The next ball was worse. Zaman spilled a catch and the ball, once again, bounced towards the fence. With his trademark unibrow frown, Pakistan captain Babar Azam watched eight runs being leaked where it should have been one run conceded and a wicket taken.

But Pakistan chased down the target. Zaman’s errors didn’t go unnoticed, but he was spared the wrath of the masses and the private agony that would have come his way had his team lost.

Instead, Arshdeep came in the firing line. The lefty pacer dropped a simple offering from Asif Ali off Bishnoi in the 18th over. Ali was on zero then. After the let-off, he scored 16 crucial runs.

Fans have always been fickle towards the Indian cricket team. For all our spirituality and pranayam and ‘aum’ chants, decency and detachment are not always our forte. Fans have a right to be angry at their team after a bad performance, but they cannot be abusive or threatening to players. It is not difficult to understand this. But fans can be entitled louts.

Social media has made things worse. Throwing stones at cricketers’ homes and burning their effigies, the typical forms of protest of earlier era fans, seem like a picnic compared to the filth that is discharged on social media. Even Khalistan is being invoked in the case of Arshdeep, all of 23 years old.

A cricketer can arrange police protection for his home without much trouble. There is no protection from online abuse, unless you switch off your phone and learn the art of ignoring social media, an art that takes time.

Even Herschelle Gibbs, a flawed rebel who did not care much about what people said, might have struggled to remain unaffected by public opinion in today’s times. Luckily, Gibbs had his Arshdeep moment before the era of social media. At the 1999 World Cup, he pouched an easy Steve Waugh catch at mid-wicket, but the ball slipped out of his hands as he tried to throw it up in celebration. Not out, the umpire ruled. Waugh scored a century and denied South Africa an almost certain win.

The Gibbs spill is arguably the most famous dropped catch in history. Legend is that Waugh said to Gibbs, “You just dropped the World Cup, mate.” But according to Waugh’s memoir, Out of my Comfort Zone, he said something more prosaic - “I hope you realise that you have just lost the game for your team.”

On his part, Gibbs maintains that he took the catch and Waugh should have been out.

“I have honestly always believed that I had the ball under control before I tossed it,” Gibbs wrote in his autobiography, To The Point. “If you watch the slo-mo replays closely, you can see that I have actually caught the ball. I caught it and chucked it away. That constitutes control in my book. You can even tell that I have caught it by the look on my face. I am looking over at the Aussie dressing room, wanting to send them the message, ‘That’s you gone, done and dusted.’ From my point of view, I caught the ball… I caught it 100 percent.”

That it was not an outright drop would have made fan frustration greater. Imagine what Gibbs would have faced had Twitter existed then.

Pakistan’s Hasan Ali was not as fortunate in this respect as Gibbs. At the T20 World Cup semifinal against Australia last year, he flubbed a makeable Matthew Wade catch. Pakistan had held the upper hand till then, but after the reprieve, Wade hit three sixes in a row to carry Australia to the final.

Ali suffered for many days, from external abuse and from his own guilt, anger and disappointment over the mistake.

“I didn’t sleep for two days,” Ali told Cricket Pakistan in an interview a few months on.

What helped was taking almost 500 catches in three days in practice, and then winning a man of the match award in the subsequent series in Bangladesh.

His fielding skills failed Hasan Ali in the T20 World Cup. Arshdeep has had his lowpoint in the Asia Cup. By the time bigger challenges come up, he will be wiser and stronger, and aware, if he wasn't already, that the Indian fan is a fair-weather friend.

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