Ranji Trophy: Sorry for the interruption - It’s a dog, it’s a pig, no it’s a snake
First day jitters during Ranji Trophy openers are not unusual. But performance anxiety had nothing to do with the jitters triggered at Vijaywada’s Devineni Venkata Ramana Praneetha Ground on Monday. Having sent Andhra in to bat, defending champions Vidarbha were stalled in their tracks when a snake was found slithering its way across the ground. Play was held up for some time as it took eight members of the ground staff to force the reluctant reptile off the ground, making for quite an intriguing 13-second video that has gone viral on social media since morning.
Rain, fog, bad light, excess sunlight have all interrupted cricket matches around the world, but leaving the weather gods aside, bizarre stoppages in domestic matches, especially at smaller venues, are commonplace. Devoid of security personnel or massive fences—as is the case in international ties hosted in India—such matches are generally closer to nature and more laid back in essence. But that still doesn’t explain some of the stranger interruptions that have happened in the past. Like at the Air Force Sports Complex in Palam in 2017, when a man drove his car into the ground and right on to the pitch, dodging attempts from umpires and players to stop him. With high profile players like current member of parliament Gautam Gambhir, Ishant Sharma, Suresh Raina and Rishabh Pant in attendance for the Delhi v Uttar Pradesh game, this was deemed a security breach.
It was no laughing matter but at Visakhapatnam, during the second Test against England in 2016, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara did crack up when a dog went on a stroll inside the ground, leaving the English players bemused and the crowd entertained. It kept giving volunteers the slip as Stuart Broad stood helplessly with the ball in his hand, finally forcing the umpires to call an early tea. Broad had to complete his over in the third session. It was later learnt that the dog used to live inside the stadium premises, explaining how it knew its way past the maze of security and fences.
It had in fact almost snuck inside the English dressing room on the first day of practice before captain Alastair Cook came out to meet his fan. No one could tell if it was the same dog that had chosen the shortest route to the ground’s media end, holding up an IPL match between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Delhi Daredevils earlier the same year. Canine interruptions apart, there have been many stoppages due to bees swarming into the field, latest being the 2019 World Cup match involving South Africa and Sri Lanka at Chester-le-Street where players had to duck for cover. In 1962, the Lord’s Test against Pakistan was stopped because a mouse had run onto the ground. And during a one-day match in Brisbane in 1982, a few mischievous fans had set loose on the ground a pig with “Botham” and “Eddie” painted on its sides, referring to England’s Ian Botham and Eddie Hemmings.
Not all pitch invasions are benign, especially those involving rowdy spectators. In 1999, former Australia captain Steve Waugh feared for his life when a section of an unruly—and slightly inebriated—Guyana crowd decided to take matter into their own hands. Waugh was almost on the verge of completing the third run needed to tie the match but the spectators stormed the ground, shoved Waugh aside and took off with the stumps. “You are risking your life, it only takes one guy with plenty to drink to take out a knife a la Monica Seles and it’s over for you,” a shaken Waugh was quoted as saying after the match that was deemed a tie.
When invading spectators are not in the hundreds, it often makes for epic stories. Streaking came into vogue because of Michael Angelow, a merchant navy cook who made for a naked dash across the hallowed Lord’s turf, vaulting the stumps in his way, during the fourth day of an Ashes Test on August 4, 1975. Angelow, it was later found, was spurred by a £20 dare. So taken aback was noted BBC commentator John Arlott by this sudden holdup of play, that he couldn’t remember the word ‘streaker’ while describing the unbelievable event unfolding in front of him. “We’ve got a freaker!” said Arlott on Test Match Special. “We’ve got a freaker down the wicket now. Not very shapely and it’s masculine. And I would think it’s seen the last of its cricket for the day.”
Closer home, there are multiple stories of spectators invading cricket grounds to get up and close with their heroes. Only some of them want more than just that. When Brijesh Patel reached his fifty at the Wankhede in 1975, a young, intrepid saree-clad woman entered the ground, outran the police to reach the pitch and planted a kiss on his cheeks. Home of the biggest film industry, this wasn’t the first time Mumbai had witnessed such romance-fuelled drama. Back in 1960, a strapping 20-year-old Abbas Ali Baig was gingerly walking out of the dressing room at Brabourne Stadium ground after tea when a woman appeared out of nowhere to kiss him. Tall, handsome and Oxford-educated, Baig was a big hit among women.
As much as some matches are remembered for a heroic innings, stunning run-outs or unforgettable spells of fast bowling, some linger in public memory because of unscripted interruptions. The sand storm of Sharjah in 1998 will always be a prelude to one of the finest one-day innings ever from Sachin Tendulkar. Had it not been for a rescheduled rest day due to a solar eclipse during the 1980 Jubilee Test in Wankhede, Ian Botham couldn’t probably have followed up an innings haul of 6/58 with a hammering knock of 114. After two one-sided days of English dominance at the Ferozeshah Kotla during the 1981 Test, the third day was suddenly in the news after start of play was delayed because the umpires had misplaced the key to the cupboard where the balls were kept. Monday’s interruption at Vijaywada is expected to bolster a varied repository of stories where cricket had to take a backseat for a while.