A Wankhede Stadium packed with Mumbai Indians supporters targeted the Royal Challengers Bangalore captain Virat Kohli with unfair jibes. An emotional Kohli reminded them that he plays for India as well. Nishad Pai Vaidya examines the whole episode and weighs the arguments from all fronts.
Was Virat Kohli justified in his outburst after the encounter with the crowd at the Wankhede Stadium? The Royal Challengers Bangalore captain was booed by the Wankhede crowd and called a “cheater” in the aftermath of his appeal for a bizarre dismissal of Mumbai Indians batsman Ambati Rayudu. Kohli, a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, reminded the arena that he plays for their country and doesn’t come there to be hated.
The whole episode does beg a few questions: Are the standards of the cricket watching public deteriorating in India? Should the player react in any way?
In team sport, the crowd is often said to be the “extra man” in the squad. The vociferous roars and the deafening chants can inspire the home side or demoralise the visitors. In their passionate cheering, they resemble an unforgiving mob baying for a gladiator’s blood. Cricket is a gentleman’s game, but crowds get swayed by emotions and can be ruthless in their behaviour towards the opponents.
Wankhede has had hostile crowds in the past
This isn’t the first time the Wankhede has been the scene of an incident of such nature. In 2008, Yuvraj Singh was targeted during a game between the Kings XI Punjab and the Mumbai Indians. It was a thrilling affair — one which Punjab clinched with a dramatic run-out off the last ball. An animated Yuvraj ran around the park vindicated in the midst of stunned silence.
Mumbai’s favourite son, Sachin Tendulkar too wasn’t spared on one occasion. The veteran batsman was booed off the field when he was dismissed cheaply against England in a Test match in 2006.
Harbhajan Singh was abused by a few spectators during a Test against England late last year.
Growing up in Mumbai, this writer has watched numerous games at the Wankhede. Over the years, the standards of crowd behaviour has slumped dramatically, with spectators hurling profanities at players — in English, Hindi and the local language Marathi.
In 2004, Ricky Ponting’s Australians were jeered with abusive songs. Things touched a nadir in 2007 when a few spectators were evicted for the infamous monkey jibes directed at Andrew Symonds.
Ravi Rampaul was heckled in 2011 when he dismissed Tendulkar for 94 — agonisingly short of what could have been his historic 100th international ton.
The booing of Kohli isn’t surprising. For sure, it won’t be the last. By pointing out the fact that he plays for India, Kohli has brought in a very pertinent argument. The same man is cheered and welcomed as a hero in India colours as he is the torch-bearer through the transition phase. He is the darling of the masses when he represents the country, but a foe in his franchise’s colours. But, does his claim have any weight?
Is the IPL bringing about a fan loyalty that transgresses player stature?
The Indian Premier League (IPL) has come up on the lines of the English Premier League (EPL) and other domestic sporting competitions. Such tournaments command an unparalleled loyalty from fans and the atmosphere at those games is unnerving. A particular player may play for Manchester United and England at the highest level, but for the supporters of a rival club he is an opponent for the day.
However, cricket has always been about nations taking on each other. The purists and true cricket lovers would like to believe the country comes before club. The IPL is still a young concept when compared to the other established leagues and one has to wait for the similar fan base to develop. Even if a few fans feel a sense of attachment towards their clubs, labelling the opposing captain a “cheater” is by no means an exhibition of “loyalty” to one’s own team.
One witnessed a very interesting incident during the 2011 World Cup final. Lasith Malinga had stunned the stadium by dismissing Virender Sehwag and Tendulkar early in India’s run-chase. As India reconstructed their innings, Malinga was heckled by a section of the Wankhede. Mind you, it is the same bowler who plays for the Mumbai Indians at the IPL and is cheered with the chants “Malinga…Malinga.” These contrasting yet similar incidents show that it isn’t about the player after all.
Players like Kohli easy targets?
Kohli’s sustained petulance over the years has made him an easy target for the misbehaved lot in the stands. There have been occasions where he has celebrated hundreds or catches with angry expressions and an outpour of abuses. Fans target such players more than the others. Of course, the fans who target the players derive cheap thrills and perhaps even sadistic pleasure.
During the IPL 2011, Kohli was involved in a verbal exchange (again at Wankhede) with a few provocative fans after Bangalore lost a game. A video of that episode had gone viral on the social media.
The worst incident of them all was when reacted to certain hostilities by showing the forbidden finger.
However, Kohli has shown much improvement in his anger management over the last 12 months. That is evident in his celebrations after reaching milestones or clinching victories. Yuvraj was also a soft target in 2008, but is a mature individual today. But, people remember what they choose to remember.
Should the crowds respect only Team India players?
In the heat of the moment, Kohli may have unknowingly made an irresponsible statement in response to the events at Wankhede. He said, “It is only creating hatred among the players. When I come back and play for India, they are going to cheer for me. It doesn’t work that way. You come to Bangalore and you see how Indian players are appreciated.”
Why did he specifically use the term “Indian players” while referring to the respect they get at Bangalore? Does this mean than a domestic talent who hasn’t represented India doesn’t get the same respect from the fans at the stadiums?
Irrespective of whether a player is an international or not, they deserve a sense of appreciation from the fans. Unnecessary mocking and tasteless jibes are unwelcome in any scenario.
The Final Verdict
The whole episode is just a sad reflection of the times we live in. Players have to accept the fact that these things would keep happening and that the crowds aren’t going to change.
The likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman to name a few have seen it all during their long careers. Not once have we heard of them losing their cool or reacting to the crowds in an unbecoming manner. The younger generation get carried away and forget that such things are occupational hazards for a cricketer. Kohli may not have crossed the line, but he could have avoided making those statements.
Gone are the days when fans would walk in to cheer good cricket and enjoy the sport they love. It isn’t about the game or the players, but about the team they support on the day. In this world, they demand nothing but success and try to do anything within their limitations to “help” their team’s cause — even if it means heckling the opponents.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter athttp://twitter.com/nishad_44)