It cannot have been easy being Andrew Symonds on this raucous Saturday night at the Brabourne Stadium. Or an Australian. And not just because they lost a game they were expected to win, by seven wickets.
If the message that went out before this game from cricket authorities and the players in both teams was one of restraint, this crowd hadn’t heard it. There were boos when Ricky Ponting won the toss, and hoots and hisses when the Australian openers walked out to bat. There was sustained heckling later, when they fielded, especially whenever Symonds touched the ball.
But the loudest catcalls were reserved for when Symonds, uncharitably referred to as the “monkey-man” by a couple of spectators, walked in. The jeers began as he got up from the dugout and continued for 15 seconds or so. The chants too were very clear, “Symmo go back”, “Symmo sucks”.
This was not a crowd apologising for the tasteless gorilla imitations made by some during the Wankhede ODI and captured forever on camera. This was a frenzied gang of Mumbaikars who clearly wanted to take the Chak De! India theme to a different level.
On the one hand, there was a bunch of happy people who wanted to entertain, be entertained and make this moment count. On the other, there were several who symbolised jingoism at its aggressive, most vocal worst.
They quietened only when Symonds hit a four. Ironically, the DJ (who began the evening with deshbhakti songs even while unhappy-looking cheerleaders began dancing) played “Bring it on forever”.
And when he got out, there were some charged-up messages for him and bhangra in the stands, while the music played louder to mask the boos. Yet, there was also palpable disappointment when many fans’ favourite whipping boy made a premature exit.
Still, it was emotional, heart stopping and in one sense, quite heady — all that T20 is supposed to be. Despite the barracking though, the defining moment perhaps was the poster that read: “Symonds, don’t be gussa, we love you”. Mumbai does have a heart.