The disgraceful images of the 1996 World Cup semifinal being abandoned at the Eden Gardens came flashing again as crowd trouble reared its head at the Barabati stadium on Monday night with India slumping to defeat in the second T20 international against South Africa, losing the series.
Unable to stomach their team’s pathetic performance in the match --- South Africa won by six wickets to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match contest --- the crowd repeatedly threw projectiles, including water bottles on to the ground. Trouble began in stands 3 and 4, known for its notorious fans, but spread to other stands as well late in the South Africa chase.
After play was halted once for several minutes, a third incident forced the players to go off the field. The ICC match referee Chris Broad was engaged in discussions with the umpires and other officials as they assessed player safety. Announcements were made on the public address system, warning the crowd that the venue could be banned from hosting international matches if the spectators did not behave.
Play eventually resumed after security forces had evicted the crowd from the stands from where the projectiles were thrown before South Africa, chasing 93 for victory, reached 96/4 in 17.2 overs.
Crowd behaviour turned ugly once India started losing wickets rapidly. Not finding any reason to cheer for their team, the restless spectators even started cheering loudly for extras, as the boundaries dried up. It then began throwing water bottles on to field during the innings break.
Barabati stadium stands 3 and 4 have been involved in disrupting games by throwing water pouches, bottles and eatables on to the field during international matches. Frustrated after India folded up for 92, the spectators from that area first targeted the police force on the ground. Bottles were thrown even at photographers and the VIP enclosure during the innings break. The secretary of the Odisha Cricket Association repeatedly appealed to the crowd but it fell on deaf ears. If anything, the throwing of bottles only intensified.
Soon, the paramilitary forces spread across the stands to bring the situation under control, identifying and ejecting trouble-makers. However, the crowds calmed down only till the 11th over of the South Africa innings when drinks were taken. It again started pelting bottles, and this time spectators from other stands too join in. It forced a 23-minute disruption with South Africa on 64/3. The umpires halted the game and the India players sat in a huddle in the middle. After repeated appeals, the crowd stopped throwing stuff for a while. The missiles came from stands 3 and 4 despite the organisers putting up a net to prevent exactly the kind of trouble which erupted.
Play was again disrupted, this time forcing the players off the field, in the 13th over with South Africa 70/3. The match finally resumed at 10.30pm after intense rounds of discussions between Chris Broad and the umpires. Forces evicted crowd from three stands and the stadium and begun emptying by then.
With the final game to be played at the Eden Gardens, the BCCI and police will have their task cut out.