The Great Corporate Coup notwithstanding, cricket should still belong to the average fan

If a tree falls in a remote island forest where there are no animals — including the bipedal variety — does it make a sound?

Nobody knows who first thought up this metaphysical question. But it is obvious that the perception of any kind of sound requires ears to hear it.

Strangely, this not-to-be-easily-dismissed thought experiment came to my mind yesterday on learning that one of the finest spin bowling talents to emerge in India in recent times — Parveez Rasool from Jammu and Kashmir — came up with his impressive haul of seven for 45 against the visiting Australian cricket team with every single spectator who turned up to watch the match at the Guru Nanak College ground in Chennai turned away “for security reasons.”

Of course, the metaphor may not stand up to strict scrutiny in this age of infotopia, of Twitter and Facebook and SMS. For, Rasool’s feat was widely reported and deservedly celebrated in the media.

But there may be a lesson here for the men who run cricket in Tamil Nadu and in the rest of India. If genuine fans are barred from a no-gate-fee game, where the hell are we headed?

Balance needed

Surely, a balance must be struck between reasonable security concerns and the interests of the people whose support base has turned cricket into a religion and a multi-billion dollar industry in India.

Did the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association believe that the interest in the game — whose details will not even go into the record books kept by schoolboy cricketers — was so high that a stampede might ensue in a college ground without a proper stadium?

Or, was there any intelligence information passed on to the State cricket bosses by the local police authorities regarding possible security threats?

In reality, there might not have been more than a few hundred fans seeking entry. And it was not beyond the resources of the State association to pay for security to screen this small number of people and let them enjoy a match that is unlikely to ever find a mention in Wisden or even Wikipedia.

It is one thing to make a genuine risk-assessment, quite another to instinctively resort to worst-case thinking and deny the ordinary fan his due.

Unfortunate

In this case, it is even more unfortunate because the star of the day, the one who felled the Australian ‘tree,’ was a gifted, brave-hearted pioneer from a region of the country where young men aspiring to play sports have suffered for political-historical reasons for a long time.

A rising new spin sensation from Jammu and Kashmir should have heard a standing ovation from genuine cricket lovers each time he dismissed an Aussie cricketer, notwithstanding the relative insignificance of the match. But Rasool’s birthday celebrations were deliberately — although the man himself had no role to play in the deliberation — muted.

We may be living in a difficult age where Big Brother is everywhere and Orwellian dystopia dominates our consciousness constantly. But that is no reason to turn a pre-Test series practice game in a college ground into some kind of in-camera trial of skills.

Sport, let me say this for a millionth time, is about people. This is especially true of cricket in this country.

Every superstar in Indian cricket, every administrator who has made a name in the sport, every sponsor or television channel or newspaper that has benefited from its exponential growth, owes it all to the men and women who truly love the nuances of the game and who enjoy watching its delightful ebb and flow.

“Cricket is one of the saner relaxations in a weary world,” wrote the great E.W. Swanton.

The ones who might have sought this saner relaxation on a sunny day at the Guru Nanak College ground were perhaps a few young college and school students and a rather less agitated band of pensioners — not exactly the type of fans who can part with outrageously exorbitant ticket prices to watch IPL matches in air-conditioned boxes, who often cheer the cheerleaders more than the finest of cricket on view.

The Great Corporate/Commercial Coup notwithstanding, cricket still belongs as much to the average fan of the type who may have journeyed to the ground on Tuesday and Wednesday to watch a practice match.

For, sport itself is about these sort of people even if the BCCI’s focus is largely, if not solely, on the glitzy and well-heeled Gen-Next class.

To my mind, this is largely an ethical issue concerning the running of the sport in the country. And it may not have an easy solution. But my sincere, heart-felt appeal — call it a cri de Coeur if you wish — is for the cricket authorities to think rationally about such issues.

If they do not, the genuine successors to the original generation of fans who made the sport great in this country might become the biggest losers. And that would be a pity.

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