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Indian cricket fans - Column by Suresh Menon
by Suresh Menon
Dec 30, 2008
Watching the Australia-South Africa series has been an education in how much India have lost in recent years as a cricketing nation.

We may have the better players, more stadiums, infinitely more money and the loudest voice in world cricket but in one are we have regressed. Indian fans have, in recent years, become an embarrassment. It was wonderful to see the Melbourne crowd (around 42,000, which would be large in most stadiums, but filled less than half of MCG) responding to cricket's latest star Jean Paul Duminy.

As the left hander approached his century, the crowds began to rev up, and when he got to the mark, they exploded, cheering with delight and letting the player know how much they appreciated his batting in a crisis. It was heart warming, it was old fashioned, it elevated the game itself. And this, from Australians, otherwise notorious for their 'toughness' and refusal to concede an inch.

To be tough is not to be boorish or foolishly jingoistic. Australians rose as one man at every stadium whenever Sachin Tendulkar went out to bat in the last series. They knew they were watching him for the last time, and it was a way of saying thank you for the many years of fighting batsmanship. Compare that with the reception another contemporary great, Javed Miandad, received in Bangalore during the 1996 World Cup. He was booed all the way to wicket.

Today, a visiting cricketer has little chance of being roundly applauded in many of our stadiums. Centuries are received in stunned silence - as if by scoring a hundred, a Ponting or a Hayden has somehow upset the natural order of things. A boundary by a visitor almost passes unnoticed by a crowd which cheers every time an Ishant Sharma plays the forward defensive stroke.

When did this turnaround take place? It wasn't always thus. There was a time when India did not necessarily have the best cricket team in the world, but they had the biggest crowds at the venues. And it was a fair crowd - appreciative of good performances on the field regardless of the team it came from. The Gavaskars and the Vishwanaths were heroes, but so were the visitors like Tony Greig and Derek Randall and Graham McKenzie and Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd. In the first-ever Test match hosted by Bangalore, Lloyd made a brutal 163 and he was cheered every run of the way; Alvin Kallicharan made a classy 124, and he too was cheered as much for his skill on a turning track as for his subtlety and touch.

Now we expect Tendulkar to score a century every time he goes out to bat. This modern great has been jeered at in his own hometown, Mumbai. The Indian captain has been booed in Kolkata. Indian spectators expect too much from their players, and are not shy of expressing their disappointment when things go wrong. Nor do they find it necessary to cheer a visiting player when he performs. This is embarrassing.

Over the years, Indian players have been feted abroad: Gavaskar in the West Indies, Chandrasekhar in Australia, Kapil Dev in England, Tendulkar everywhere - yet few players from abroad have enjoyed similar status in India. Crowds pray that Ricky Ponting does not make another century and get closer to Tendulkar - everything is seen in terms of statistics.

Duminy will remember his maiden century as much for what it meant to the team as for the way it was received by rival fans. India's fandom can be summed up in the reaction to Mahendra Singh Dhoni. When India bowed out of the World Cup in 2007, the walls of his house under construction were pulled down and stones were pelted. Now his fans want to build a temple where he is the presiding deity. Enough said.
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