City of shame

This was going to be part two of my Calcutta trip, but certain events in the past days have made the city and its people a laughing stock. Once again Calcuttans have proved—not that given their (un) sporting history any evidence was necessary—their insularity.

“No Ganguly, no cricket,” claimed supporters of dethroned Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly days before the one-day international between South Africa and India was to be played at Eden Gardens. And when Ganguly was indeed selected in the Test squad, ostensibly as an “all rounder”, you didn’t have to be a seasoned cricket analyst to realize that it was more a political than a cricketing move.

While India went on to suffer a humiliating defeat in Eden Gardens, the partisan Calcutta crowd were seen and heard to be enthusiastically cheering South Africa on! Though I do not subscribe to the “you should support India out of patriotism” view—sport is an entertainment; support whoever makes you happy!—this was a little bit extreme as well!

For some reason, the media attributes great sporting knowledge and fair behaviour to Calcutta’s sports fans! Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Bengalis in general consider themselves—and are considered by some, it has to be admitted—to the be intellectuals of the country! Yet history says otherwise. Calcutta has a reputation of pettiness and petulance when it doesn’t have its way.

1983: India lost to the West Indies, and the team bus was pelted with stones and such. Sunil Gavaskar documents the incident in its full “glory” in the second part of his autobiography, Runs and Ruins. Even the wives of Gavaskar and Kapil Dev were not spared!

(1985: I am not sure why this happened, but the behaviour of the crowd was so bad that Gavaskar refused to play in Calcutta ever again. Two years later, when a Test match was scheduled here, he sat out!)

1996: Semi-finals of the World Cup, India versus Sri Lanka. India were getting the thrashing of their lives, and the result was a foregone conclusion, when the Calcuttans decided if India couldn’t win, there wouldn’t be any cricket. They started throwing missiles and setting fire to banners, which escalated to setting fire to the stands! The match couldn’t be played to the finish and was awarded to Sri Lanka.

1999: After India and Pakistan had resumed cricketing relations following a long gap, a Test match was scheduled at Eden Gardens. But disheartened fans started chucking missiles at the fielders when India were getting stick. It got so bad that the stadium had to be emptied and the match played to empty stands.

This is, by no means, a comprehensive list of the times the red mist has hijacked Calcuttan fans’ better judgement. The city is and always has been the most volatile and partisan of cricket crowds in the country. Their knowledge of the game—and its spirit, for “cricket” is synonymous with fairplay—is as shallow as a puddle in a pothole.


5 Replies to “City of shame”

  1. “As shallow as a puddle in a pothole”–I liked that.
    Maybe West bengal should just have a cricket team that plays against the rest of the world and is captained by Ganguly till he retires at the age of 60. Or maybe 70. Worth a thought for Eden Garden spectators.

  2. I agree with you completely. I was in college in Calcutta when the 1996 incident took place, and witnessed it all on television. While a lot of us considered the incident shameful, a sizeable proportion actually defended the act, or dismissed it by labelling it an act of ‘hooliganism’. Their ‘intellectual’ status notwithstanding, Calcuttans have shown time and again that they’re this myopic race for whom the term ‘fair play’ holds no import. Though I have to say that irritating as the Cal crowd undoubtedly was, Greg Chappell could very well have refrained from sticking out his middle finger.

  3. What surprises me is how the Eden Gardens’ spectators are able to get away just about everything. I mean, just take a look at that track record, and yet has the city ever been docked a match? In English football, clubs are forced to play in empty stadia if their fans misbehave – Liverpool were even banned (unfairly I still believe) from Europe for almost a decade because of their fans’ behaviour at Heysel. Well, in spite of what happened in the 1996 World Cup, I will bet a fair penny that when India next hosts a World Cup, Calcutta will get prime matches and yes, if India does not do well, there will be hell to answer. After all, Jaggu Uncle is from Cal!

  4. All I can say is, if there was ever any crowd deserving of that finger, it’s Eden Gardens!

  5. I agree. The behaviour of the crowds and certain people at an international venue like Calcutta is definitely a shame, and should be criticised harshly.
    but pardon me for saying that the attitude of just a few parts of the article and a few of the comments are odd…no funny too.
    mayb its just me, but i get the feeling u r sometimes venting at a city on a whole, not only bcos of very deserving reasons, but bcos u do not like calcuttans (west bengal??) on a whole.
    “Calcutta has a reputation of pettiness and petulance when it doesn’t have its way.” in sport? or as a whole? i don’t understand how u can make such an overwhleming judgement.
    but maybe this thing is normal in india. oh well. just my opinion.

    ps: “myopic race”?? that made me laff, rlly!! people from calcutta are of the same race as the rest of india if i am not mistaken? lols

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