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September 16, 1997


Bat behaviour

Prem Panicker

Thinking of a movie -- in this case, Akira Kurosawa's landmark Rashomon -- when I am attempting to write about the off-field fracas involving Inzamam ul Haq on Sunday, might appear at first sight to be stretching things a bit.

Yet it is that film that comes to mind -- or rather, Kurosawa's treatment of a rape. If you recall, the film is not so much about the rape, per se -- rather, the underlying theme is that there really is no black and white, there is no 'this is what happened, this is what did not happened' -- what there is, are protagonists, participants, even bystanders.

Each of them has a point of view. And none of them may match.

I was watching the broadcast of the game. From that perspective, remember, the cameras are trained on the field, where the action is, and not off it, which in this instance was the epicentre of the controversy.

What I, therefore, saw courtesy the cameras was just this: Inzamam appeared to be having a heated argument with a spectator seated close to the line, with a megaphone in his hand. Both spectator and player at one point raised their hands to each other -- the spectator flourishing his megaphone like a weapon. At this point, Inzamam jumped over the hoardings, with a bat he had acquired (it was never quite clear how) and went for the spectator. There was a melee until, thanks to some spectators and to the security staff, the combatants were seperated.

With that limited perspective, some two or three questions assume disturbing proportions. One, just what was the provocation behind Inzamam's rush of blood? Two, whatever the provocation, did the Pakistan players or captain point it out to the umpires or, even, to the security staff? And, finally, just where did that bat come from?

Generally, when you cover a story of this kind, what you do is talk to as many of the people in situ as possible. This, however, is the age of the World Wide Web, of e-mail, of instant communication and interaction between reporter and reader. A day after the incident, thus, I find my mailbox flooded with mail from readers who were there, who saw what happened, who have their own perspectives. We present a selection, below:

"I was in Grandstand 4, the one adjacent to where Inzamam and other Pakistan players executed a pre-meditated assault" - Prasad Chodavarapu.

"I don't think the facts were being portrayed correctly" - Krishna Kumar.

"The same group of people who fought with Inzamam were taunting Mohanty..." - Ven Hari.

"I did see a Pakistan player take a bat from the players' room to the scene of the scuffle" - Khalid Maklai.

"I was... about seven feet away from where the incident occured" - Suresh Ramachandran.

Browsing the web, I found one other source -- Dave Perkins, writing for the Toronto Star. Appropriate, I guess -- after all, the whole idea was to play this one at a neutral venue, because an India-Pakistan cricket match rouses angry passions when played out on each other's soil. So we might as well have a neutral point of view, here, to figure out just what happened, and what the implications are.

Perkins says: "Two fans with an electronic loud hailer at the Sahara Cup cricket match might have verbally abused him (Inzamam), his family and his Pakistani team, which was playing dreadfully. Or, as earwitness Haroon Siddiqui, a Toronto Star senior editor and paying customer, said, two fans repeatedly called Ul-Haq a 'potato' in honour of his roundish frame.

"That was it. For getting called several kinds of potato, Ul-Haq went into the stands.... and attempted to attack a mouthy fan, triggering a nasty mini-riot that could easily have escalated to world-wide ugly.

"Worse, a cricket bat appeared -- no one is sure from where, although two witnesses said they thought they saw Ul-Haq call to his bench for one -- and there was Ul-Haq, apparently swinging his bat at the customer(s) before someone restrained him. He didn't appear to hit anyone with the bat. That is consistent; the Pakistani batsmen were off the mark all day..."

That's it, folks, the view from the galleries.

It is also the reason why I recalled Rashomon at the outset of this piece. For if you notice, everyone who has written in has got a slightly different fix on the incident, and no two versions are absolutely identical.

But beneath the differences, there is one very important commonality - and it is this, that everyone, including the Toronto Star columnist, is unanimous that the abuse was not, as both Inzamam and his captain Rameez Raja claimed later, personal, it was not directed against the families of the players.

What happened, all accounts agree, was that a spectator repeatedly referred to Inzamam as a 'potato'.

Sort of like we would call an overweight sportsman 'fatty' or 'zeppelin' or whatever.

The first question is, did the spectator have the right to insult the player(s) that way? Remember that all accounts refer to Azharuddin being taunted over his second marriage, to film starlet Sangeeta Bijlani,and Debashish Mohanty being taunted with the word kalia (blackie).

The answer to that is an emphatic no. Cricketers are out there to provide entertainment for the spectators, yes, by means of bat and ball. They are not there for you to make of them human dartboards, for your verbal sallies. It pays to remember that playing an international fixture -- in cricket, or any other sport -- takes a lot out of a player, mentally as well as physically. Players, thus, don't need the further aggravation of being subjected to taunts.

And in a very real sense, spectators who indulge in such behaviour are cheating themselves -- because after all, an irritated player is one who is not playing at his peak, ergo the quality of play overall comes down, which in turn means that you are not getting what you paid for.

But that is only one side of the story -- the other centers around Inzamam's assault. And it needs to be said, without equivocation, that no matter what the provocation, an athlete can never, ever, go outside the boundary, into the stands, and take matters into his own hands.

What, the question can be asked, does he do when pushed? The answer is simple -- he complains to his captain, who complains to the umpires on the field of play. And it is up to the umpires to assess the problem, to take, in concert with the match referee, whatever action is deemed fit.

This takes us back to the Eden Gardens, Calcutta -- venue of the 1996 World Cup semifinal between India and Sri Lanka. The host team was losing, when a section of spectators began hurling things at the Lankan players on the field. The umpires were informed. Match referee Clive Lloyd was consulted. And the last named, on finding that appeals for peace did not bring about the desired effect, awarded the game to Sri Lanka.

That is how it should be. The spectators were out of order when they flung misguided missiles at the Lankan fielders -- but the latter would have been even further over the line had they picked up those missiles and flung them right back.

Forget the cricketing oval. Reduce the question to its simplest terms. Say you are walking down the street. Someone abuses you. You have the choice to ignore it and walk away -- after all, being called a 'potato', or worse, does not make you one. You have the choice of retaliation -- if you know the names of a few other interesting vegetables, say. You do not have the choice of assaulting the abuser -- because the minute you offer physical violence, you are in transgression of the law. There is no system of jurisprudence that condones physical assault -- and physical assault is what Inzamam offered to that loud-mouthed spectator.

Which brings us to the famous bat. Views may differ on just who brought it out -- though that again will be cleared up when the videos are studied. But the fact remains that the bat was not already present at the scene. It was brought out and handed over to Inzamam, who then used it to go after the concerned spectator.

The legal phrase for that is premeditated assault with a deadly weapon -- and if you think it is rather ridiculous to equate a cricket bat with a Kalashnikov, then you've never kept wickets standing up and been inadvertently slugged by a batsman going for a sweep. For believe me, a bat on the base of the occiput can stun, at worst, and even kill.

And for that, there is no excuse, no extenuating circumstance.

For that, a two match suspension, and a 'suspended suspension' for another match, appears to be a mere slap on the wrist. It is as if, on my way to work, I assaulted a guy on the road who made a personal comment I didn't like to hear, and the judge told me to abstain from work for two days -- on full pay, mind you.

Worse, the gent who so helpfully provided Inzamam his weapon is not mentioned -- let alone hauled up before the authorities for appropriate punitive action. Ever hear of "aiding and abetting an assault"?

The mildness of the punishment apart, one feature of the day's further proceedings is disturbing -- how is it that Inzamam was allowed back on the field of play? If the same incident had happened during a football, or hockey, game, the player would have been sent off forthwith -- and further punishment decided later, once all the evidence was in. Why, then, was such an action not taken in this instance?

This in turn raises the question of the role of the International Management Group, promoters of the event. "A bit of a misunderstanding" is how the IMG termed the incident. Which is a bit like saying that Belfast is a bit of push-and-shove between the Brits and the Irish.

More, the IMG in its official report said neither the referees not the cricket officials present had "seen anything untoward". Surprising, to say the least, in light of what happened -- where said referees and officials drawn exclusively from the school for the blind?

Rameez Raja, at the subsequent media briefing, was asked whether either Inzamam or he himself had complained to the authorities. "There was no need to, everyone could see what happened," was the rather surprising response from Raja, who really should know better than to trot that one out. Say an Indian player had, on the field, cheated -- taken something out of his pocket and rubbed it on the ball, as England captain Michael Atherton did on a famous occasion. Would Raja, if he had been batting then and seen it, have reported it to the umpires, or let well enough alone on the theory that the referees are supposed to see these things on their own?

Sorry, that particular excuse just doesn't wash.

Bad as the entire incident has been, there are, lurking behind the smoke and fire of Sunday's fracas, issues that are far more alarming.

The first relates to the hype surrounding India-Pakistan clashes on the field of play. That there is thinly veiled hostilities between the two countries -- politically and even in a military sense -- is a given. Whether, in this situation, the two countries should be engaged in sporting encounters is moot. But the real question is, should the media and the organisers be using this situation for their promos?

For the unmistakable fact -- you couldn't miss it even if you were as sightless as the referees and officials who, at Toronto on Sunday, saw "nothing untoward" while Inzamam and the crowd went to war -- is that India-Pakistan matches are being promoted, both on the billboards and on television, as an extension of those hostilities. And, very deliberately, a bull-ring atmosphere being created, whenever the two teams lock horns.

Sporting rivalries are always exciting -- vide Argentina versus Brazil in football. Or McEnroe versus Borg, Steffi Graf versus Monica Seles in tennis. Australia versus England in cricket.

Such rivalries fill the stadia -- and the coffers of the organisers.

But the way India-Pakistan games are being hyped goes beyond the realm of 'sporting rivalries' -- and frankly, it is deplorable that tournament organisers, television companies and sponsors are, by their ill-judged action, adding needless fuel to an already blazing fire.

And there is one last question that bothers me. A question that, to my mind, should be asked and answered now - before further unpleasantness arises.

It has been obvious throughout the first two games that even onfield, there is a lot of "needle" between the two teams. And now this fracas involving Inzamam.

Chances are, when the Indian team goes to Pakistan later this month for the three-match Jinnah Cup one-day series, the fans there will want to "avenge" themselves on what they will see as personal abuse by Indian fans directed at Pakistan players. Human nature being what it is, I don't think the fans in Pakistan are going to consider -- or even be told, by their media -- that the same fans were much more abusive towards Indian players.

Therefore, indications are that the Indian team is going to face more than the usual quota of abuse when they turn out on Pakistan soil to take on the home side.

The organisers need to realise that possibility. To take appropriate action to ensure that the players, of both sides, are not subjected to further assault, verbal or otherwise -- at Toronto, or elsewhere.

And they need to do it now -- not after even more damage is done.

Match refree's verdict on Inzamam affair

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