Wankhede Stadium, Second Test, Mumbai
Harbhajan Singh, at tea, stood at the boundary line waving to three spectators that were egging him on during the game. He had just taken England’s final two meaningless wickets after a long toil in the heat, after bowling a few spells that had come to define him over the last two years. Flat, safe, economical and wicketless for most parts. This, in his comeback test, after more than a year on the sidelines.
India’s three-pronged spin attack had just conceded more than 400 runs to an English side that could rank below Bangladesh as far as playing the turning ball is concerned. On a turning wicket, they could rank amongst a few associate nations.
Singh and King don’t rhyme anymore.
Bhajji had, just a few overs back, demonstrated his feelings towards these same spectators by pointing to his shoes with his fingers. It wasn’t a demonstration of love and acceptance, by any stretch of imagination. That they were smiling while shouting slogans that went on the lines of, ‘Work harder, Bhajji, earn your place in the side!’ didn’t go down too well with the frustrated Sardar as he tried to discover new ways to add to his 400-odd test wickets. A few spectators sitting by their side agreed with them wholeheartedly, generally frustrated with the Indian spinners and their lack of penetration through the KP mauling. There was nothing wrong with what these three passionate, flustered fans were yelling about. There was certainly nothing wrong with the way they were saying it either- no signs of Virat’s favorite words in their chants. It was, as mentioned, a desperate push- almost an urge to rescue a team and a career. It was surreal enough to watch one Indian great come to terms with his failing abilities, and arguably the greatest cricket career of all time reaching the finish line.
So, Singh, as it happened, was standing at the ropes with atleast four cops and two security guards- urging them to arrest these spectators. He was waving at them, warning them ominously, telling them that they should tell their father to come and face him instead (In Hindi, this would sound a lot more effective). The cops did their thing, bowing to the request of the sporting star- chucking them out of the stadium, with Harbhajan asking them to ‘meet him outside’.
That another supposedly exemplary spectator pointed out to them and ratted them out to the player, urging Singh to take action, didn’t help matters one bit for the confidence of a vocal fun-loving Indian fan. Your own kind- fresh from watching your overpaid heroes underperform once again- don’t think twice before resorting to the worst form of idol-worship?
Again, Bhajji’s own reaction was a great indication of what kind of environment the bowler may have been brought up in. Or the kind of players and coaches he has trained with over the years. NOT the kind of fans that adored him, or worshipped him in his better days, and riled him during his worst.
If those same guards were asked to arrest Kohli by the Australian spectators that saw his famous finger, the BCCI would have to step in like a reluctant mother and play bully.
If only I was good enough…
Here, though, it was a one-sided battle- player v/s an Indian fan. The same fan that has to brave a lot of third-world facilities, pathetic conditions and bad behavior in order to catch a live glimpse of the heroes they’ve grown up with. The same fan that pays through his nose at times to sit in underdeveloped stands and badly-constructed stadiums (Wankhede, exceptionally bad) with a smile on his face and tears in his eyes while watching Sachin Tendulkar walk out to the middle one last time. The same fan who forgets how much he has to endure, without food or water through a day, as soon as the first ball is bowled. The fans that form part of the huge ovation when Harbhajan’s name is called out as part of the team sheet before the day’s play.
And then, another self-righteous fan thinks that these are the fans because of which a stadium will never be a pleasant experience in the country. It starts way beyond a frustrated fan, but it certainly does not start with a frustrated hero on the field.
The 3 unfortunate spectators were threatened to apologize profusely to the ‘hurt’ player. They did, in public, but they were still not spared. The fans that looked on wondered why an international player would come all the way down from the dressing room with an entourage in tow- like a bratty little rich kid without his lollipop- and take the trouble to not only abuse the freedom of a spectator, but overreact in the largest way possible to an absolutely harmless comment. The fan that ratted them out was more intent on them being made an example out of- just like he made an example out of himself in a stadium full of edgy minds and broken hearts. Ironically, just a week back, two 20 year old Indian girls were arrested for a facebook post on the death of a famous politician. Again, the facebook post did not involve hatred, spite or abuse of any sort. It stated a simple point, an opinion- the kind of honest opinions that have made India the largest democracy in the world (?).
But if one’s rights stop with one’s self-adopted religion (cricket), then what is democratic about an overpopulated, moody nation that lives in denial about its own pride and people?
We complete YOU
This is less about the freedom of a spectator, a common man or the ‘perpetrator’, and more about the inner angst and conscience of the supposedly-wronged man/party involved. Harbhajan Singh may not have reacted the same way and shed a poor light on not only his team but his family and support staff- if this had been a couple of years ago. His frustration is understandable, but you don’t see Sachin Tendulkar reacting to the millions of calls for his head anymore. You never saw Ganguly getting into the stands and trying to set right all his vocal doubters when he was chucked out of Indian cricket more unceremoniously than these fans. Harbhajan could be facing personal problems, other than doubts of his own ability. He could have a broken heart, or a death to cope with, or unreasonable friends. But, with 100 million people watching him on TV screens, waiting for him to strike back on the field with a ball in his hand- his emotional move that comes only weeks after an equally ridiculous move targeted at his kind (a movie called ‘Son Of Sardaar’) does not do justice to the single-minded dedication and madness that has made him India’s current most prolific bowler. It does not do justice to the large-hearted community that must have an immense sense of humour in order to tolerate entire jokebooks on their kind. If anything, it only adds fuel to the fire about the hot-headed Indians from a certain part of the country in the team- Kohli, Yuvraj, Gambhir, Praveen Kumar and Harbhajan Singh himself.
And to think, it was another Sardar- Monty Panesar- who may have been the prime reason behind his frustration.
IPL can tolerate slaps and white pants and harmless bans, but Test Cricket stands for much more than a beleaguered bowler standing at the sidelines fighting the wrong battle and winning the wrong war.
Harbhajan Singh, you owe us an apology.
We are the spectators that watch you trudge in half-heartedly nowadays, and still egg you on deep inside. Just like your father may have had to hurt you in the past in order to make you the player you are, we will have opinions about the ones we love. We pay to do so. We earn the right.
That is what sports is all about. You give, we take.
We give, you BETTER learn how to take it.