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.