South Africa beat India in the 2nd T20I by six wickets © AFP
South Africa beat India in the 2nd T20I by six wickets © AFP

The second Twenty20 International (T20I) between India and South Africa at Cuttack was marred by shameful crowd behaviour, as some sections of the Barabati spectators ended up throwing water bottles on the ground. Play was initially suspended and South Africa eventually won the game comfortably. Ironically, the series is called the ‘Freedom series’ for Mahatma Gandhi-Nelson Mandela Trophy. When the pelting first began the match was not entirely out of India’s hand. Ravichandran Ashwin had taken 3 for 24, and South Africa were in a tricky position at 64 for 3. Had they lost another wicket or two, India might have been able to stage a comeback. Cricket Scorecard: India vs South Africa 2nd T20I at Cuttack .

It is not like this was a World Cup semi-final (not that that would have made it okay); as important a match as this was it was still a regular T20I. The stakes were hardly astronomical. India had an off day with the bat, but it’s not like they were bowled out for an outlandish total. This was not even their lowest T20I total; that was 74 against Australia at MCG in 2008. Cricket Blog: India vs South Africa 2015, 2nd T20I at Cuttack.

Indian crowds have an unfortunately long and embarrassing history of disrupting matches in which the Indian cricket team did not perform well. The 1996 World Cup semi-final between India and Sri Lanka at Eden Gardens is perhaps the most blatant form of a match being brought to a standstill because the crowds did not approve of how their side was playing. But it was far from the only instance. Between 1996 and 2002, crowd backlashes in India were sadly not unheard of.

Perhaps the strangest instance came when India were actually winning a match; chasing 301 against West Indies at Rajkot in 2002, play had to be called off with India comfortably placed at 200 for 1 with Virender Sehwag batting on 114 off 82 balls. India needed a mere 100 from 13 overs with nine wickets remaining when the crowds turned inexplicably hostile and India were awarded the match via Duckworth-Lewis (D/L).

Since the early 2000s, though, India have not had a lot of matches being interrupted by the crowd. That is not to say Indian “fans” have not been hostile when the team does poorly; just ask Mohammad Kaif (2003 World Cup) and Yuvraj Singh (2014 World T20). However, matches being interrupted seemed to be a thing of the past, which is what makes a disruption like this so disheartening.

For all the faults that Indian spectators might have, they seemed to have outgrown the tendency of throwing things at the players on the grounds. What the Barabati spectators (which is a generous term for the ones involved) showed was that despite Indian cricket improving vastly since the 1990s, the fans have not. Swift and deadly action should be taken on those responsible. With India hosting ICC World T20 2016, another such instance will be disastrous.

Distasteful memories 1996 Eden Gardens come flooding back with the barbarism in Barabati. May it never occur again.

(Shiamak Unwalla, a reporter with CricketCountry, is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek who loves cricket more than cricketers. His Twitter handle is @ShiamakUnwalla)