Cricket in India, or at least the one day variety of the game, is now paying the price of becoming a mass phenomenon. Three consecutive one day internationals — in Jamshedpur, Nagpur and Rajkot — have been disrupted by unruly crowd behaviour. Before accusing fingers are pointed at the small towns, it should be underlined that it was Calcutta that showed the way. Cricket is the only game in India which has acquired mass popularity and consequently, mass hysteria. These aspects grow out of a number of factors. First, the impact that television has had on the spread of cricket. Second, the iconization of some of the cricketers through advertisements and endorsements. And finally, the involvement of big money which in turn has made cricketers into stars. Added to all these is the problem of rising expectations. Cricket fans, many of them ignorant of the history and the niceties of the game of cricket, expect the Indian team to win and their stars to perform all the time. Disappointment leads to violence and disruption, as has happened in Calcutta at least twice. In the smaller towns — witness what happened in Rajkot — unruly behaviour can be the product of ignorant enthusiasm. The fellow who chucked the missile at the West Indian fielder on Tuesday was probably unaware that this is not done on the cricket field. This is the price tag for popularity.
Crowd behaviour is only one index of the way cricket and the ambience in which it is played have been transformed in recent times. There is no point bemoaning this as the end of the world. Arrangements in grounds around the sub-continent have to be altered to suit the demands of the changed times. In other countries around the world, where there is the danger of crowds turning violent or too enthusiastic in the show of their partisanship, steps of containment have been established. In some Latin American countries, machine-gun-totting policemen sit facing the crowd; crowds are distanced from the playing arena by high-fencing and sometimes even by a trench. Cricket grounds in India, forgetting the game’s noble and gracious past, must now emulate such arrangements. The Board of Control for Cricket in India can set certain standards for the safety of players and only those grounds that meet the given standards should be allotted one day internationals. This is no longer a choice before the BCCI. Such steps have to be taken if the BCCI wants foreign teams to tour India. Crowd composition and attitudes have changed. The arrangements have to change too. Different times need different mores, as the Latin tag says.