By Srinivasan Narayanan
The lathi charge on cricket fans line up to buy tickets for the key India-England match is unacceptable and deplorable. As Dean Jones said, lathi-charging customers at a time when the philosophy of “Customer is King” prevails is totally unprofessional. Surely cricket fans deserve much better.
How could things have been handled better?
Let’s start with who were the stakeholders in this case: International Cricket Council (ICC), Board of Control for Cricket in Indian (BCCI), Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA), state cricket associations, sponsors, dedicated fan clubs or associations like the Barmy Army, fans who booked tickets in advance for the Kolkata match and the (local) fans hoping to buy tickets at the retail counters.
Javagal Srinath, secretary of the KSCA, had told the media that the capacity of Chinnaswamy Stadium is around 38,000 of which only around 6,000 to 7,000 tickets were available for sale for the fans - several of the die-hards had camped overnight to buy the tickets.
Anyone with some knowledge of the demand for tickets for a key match would have known that Bengaluru would have lapped up all the tickets available. As Srinath said, even 1,20,000 tickets would have gone flying.
What failed was a complete lack of imagination, planning and insensitivity in meeting the expectations of customers/fans.
Srinath was partly right in declaiming, “We cannot meet people's expectations.” What he or KSCA failed to foresee was the huge mismatch between demand and supply and the resultant chaos. Even the normally inept ICC could see that and warned BCCI about it! What the fans expect is transparency in how KSCA expected to distribute the tickets in such a situation.
Could the KSCA have increased the supply? No! ICC, BCCI and other stakeholders named earlier have all been promised and issued the tickets – over 30,000 of them. This was a Kolkata match shifted to Bengaluru at short notice. So the commitment made earlier to other stakeholders could not have been reneged upon.
KSCA had control on only one thing: How it will distribute the 7,000 tickets to 30,000 fans. Fortunately, there is a model available to tackle such predicaments - the lottery/raffle system. In short they could have issued tokens (like lottery tickets) and from the counterfoils picked 7,000 lucky fans.Certainly, this is not a completely satisfactory system but far better than using the violence on cricket fans. The genuine fans would have accepted the token system as a relatively fairer method. The unruly ones would have been the touts expecting to make a killing by selling tickets in the black. They could have been dealt with separately.
Could the lathi charge been avoided? Most definitely! Water pistols or even tear gas, at worst, could have been used to disperse fans.
When Anil Kumble, Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad got into KSCA we the cricket fans rejoiced. They expected these former star cricketers will do a start turn as administrators as well – especially bring to the closed doors of administration the same fair play, equal opportunities and transparency that was part of their game as player.
Men who were part of changing the image of Indian cricket from “Heroes at home and zeroes abroad” to winners everywhere gave us hope that with their involvement in administration fans would get a better deal. We expected that the players who had planned and executed the dismissals of world class opponents successfully on the field will bring the same skills to the table of administration.
We expected that they knew that genuine fans of Indian cricket - despite momentary madness when their team gets defeated - were the sole, loyal, reliable friends of these cricketers who deserved empathy and understanding.
Are these expectations that could not be managed, Mr Srinath?
That Kumble refused to comment on the issue on the grounds that Srinath had already spoken is interesting and open to multiple interpretations. My own take is that it was a significant silence. That a man who was an indefatigable warrior on the field, chose not to air his opinions is because he was not happy with the way it was handled by all concerned - including the media conference by Srinath.
Always a team man who never spoke against his own mates, Kumble perhaps did not have a choice.
(Srinivasan Narayanan, a Director and COO at ProPart Solutions India P Ltd, is a very passionate follower of cricket)