ICC World Cup 2019: A gesture to talk about amid the boos
Yes, you, the Indian cricket fan in the blue jersey who is calling Steve Smith a ‘cheater’ from the Vauxhall End of the Oval, I’m looking at you. You look all cheerful and smug, thrilled with your afternoon’s work. Do you feel powerful in a herd?
Yes, you, the other Indian cricket fan, also in a blue jersey, who isn’t partaking in this absurdity despite being seated in the same stand and surrounded by the chanting masses, I’m looking at you too. Your earlobes are hot and your jaw is clenched in disbelief. I understand you.
Yes, you, Steve Smith in your yellow jersey and fielding below this howling gallery, I’m looking at you. There you are with your proud head lowered and a nervous smile on your lips and your palms raised in apology towards men who do not understand your humility. Despite the fact that it was proven that you weren’t directly involved with the act of ball-tampering on that fateful afternoon in South Africa a year-and-a-half ago, you still shouldered the blame as a captain ought to and didn’t fight the ban at the very height of your batting form. Then you returned, humbler and hungrier, hoping to repair your reputation in public. You have, and I respect you.
Yes, you, Virat Kohli, momentarily breaking your tremendous focus during your batting essay to gesture angrily towards the crowd before shaking your head in disgust and apologising to Smith on their behalf, I’m looking at you too. You and Smith have never seen eye-to-eye, given that the two of you are modern batting greats and are fiercely competitive as all great sportsmen are; yet, you stood up for a rival in the middle of the rivalry and even went on record to say: “Look he has apologised, made his comeback and if he still gets booed, I mean if it had happened to me I too would have felt bad.” You are India’s true champion, on and off the field, and I salute you.
Yes, you, Sourav Ganguly, positioned in the commentary box of the Oval when Kohli’s reaction is first played out as a replay during the innings-break, I’m listening to you. Back in 2000, when the sport in India had hit rock-bottom due to the match-fixing scandal, you took over the reins and steered the team out of its darkest hour, giving us reason to once again believe. Again, you did not let us down when the first visuals were beamed around the world, your voice-over saying: “There is something very special (that happened) in the first innings. Virat Kohli, captain of India, asking the Indian fans to applaud at Steve Smith. He is a terrific ambassador to the game and that is great to see.” I appreciate you.
Yes, you, cricket administrator seated in the stadium’s fanciest suite on your leather chair and sipping your champagne, I’m trying to look at you. But you are invisible. And mute too. Unruly and misbehaving fan-bases are ubiquitous in the world of sport but in every other sport the governing body and administrators step up during the concerned hour and ensure that necessary action is taken—sometimes the team is fined for the behaviour of their fans and at other times even great football clubs such as Barcelona and AC Milan are made to play their matches behind closed doors. Yet, you, cricket administrator, say nothing and neither do you take any action. Are you the guardian this game deserves?
Yes, you, the Indian cricket fan standing outside the Jack Hobbs Gate of the ground, hoping to take a selfie with members of the Australian team filing into the bus hours after the game has ended, I can see you too. You call out to Finch and Starc and Warner and Smith, but when they stream past without a second glance, you boo to cope with your rejection. You are now screaming ‘cheater’ once more. But outside the ground and without the numbers, you look powerless.