While being at a bar called “Shirley Heights” in Antigua and ordering a few shots of Bacardi 151 rum, my friends and I were pleasantly surprised to see, Adam Gilchrist was only at arm’s length, standing at the bar, ordering a few drinks himself. This was during the 2007 World cup. We were, of course, thrilled by the opportunity and to see a super-duper star so up close, was goosebumps inducing. We gathered up enough courage to actually ask him for a chance to get our pictures taken with him, which he flatly refused, very promptly. “Sorry mate! Can’t do it.” One of my buddies (you know who you are) with a couple of 151 shots in him by now, was dejected but well within Gilly’s earshot, bitched about this uncaring, un-fan-friendly attitude of Gilchrist and throwing in a asshole or two as well. Now, that’s just rude, isn’t it? We proceeded to take a picture or two of him anyway (as you can clearly see Gilchrist wasn’t comfortable with his pictures taken at a bar).
What is it that makes us fans feel like the cricket stars owe us anything at all? After all, they are also human beings who would like to be left alone, outside of their place of work – the cricket field. But, we – the fans – tend to be intrusive and think that the cricketers are obligated to give us the autographs, pictures taken etc. If they refuse, which they are entitled to, then, we quickly turnaround and bad mouth them.
The Caribbean is unlike any other place in the cricket world, in terms of cricket watching experience – with the laid back nature of life there but intense cricket fans with the great knowledge of the game . It is one of the last remaining places where the players can actually venture out after the game for a drink and mingle around amongst the fans, as “normal” people. Anywhere else, you hardly get to see players outside of the arena. They usually have a tight security ring around them or hang out only in private clubs where to which the common fan doesn’t have access to.
The “Brawl Gate” that happened in St. Lucia recently, where “allegedly” few Indian cricket players, after their loss and bouncing out of the Twenty20 World Cup, were accosted by some unruly Indian fans at a bar, will probably put an end to that. A few fans, liquored up, started hurling abuses at the Indian players for their dismal performance at the World Cup and eventually led to an argument between the players and the fans, and has been reported ad nauseum in the media and the players have been issued show cause notice by the Indian cricket board to explain the circumstances and their behavior.
Many spectators and viewers believe – and this is a point often made in this column – that they are the genuine stakeholders of Indian cricket; that if they didn’t watch, there would be no money, and maybe no game. The counter to that would be: what does buying a ticket or watching a game entitle you to? The action as a match unfolds? The excitement and drama that only live sport can provide? Or more? A slice of a player’s life?
Conversely, are players expected to acknowledge that their livelihood comes, either directly or otherwise, from the people who watch them play? And that, therefore, they should be polite, dignified and likeable in their company? And very patient? But then, shouldn’t fans be reasonable? Can’t they wait, for example, before dinner is complete before barging in and insisting on a photograph?
I am of the view that the players do not owe us, the fans, anything – actually, not even their performance on the field. If they stop performing cricket-wise, they are gonna be chopped off from the squad and they know it. For fans to think they are stakeholders in the lives of players is absolutely absurd. People write on blogs and newspaper columns and show up on TV passing scathing remarks about the “bloated egos” and “bad attitude” of the players but they forget that the players, once they get to the national scene, lose what all of us take for granted – Privacy and Anonymity. They are not left alone even while traveling as these videos attest. (1, 2). Imagine if you were to be constantly mobbed around by people wanting photographs and autographs, while you are trying to have a quiet meal somewhere or just unwinding from a long day at work with a beer. How would you feel?
Some people say the loss of privacy is a price the players have to pay for their demigod status. I don’t think so. When the players sign a contract with the national boards, I do not think its in their contract to put up with the boorish behavior of fans.
This brings us to the point of how do we tackle this situation but we will answer that question in detail some other time. The players need to be educated and trained to handle these situations better but the fans need to get their behavior in line as well. If they were so pissed off with the players’ performance, I am sure, someone who makes a living playing the sport and whose career and income depends on on-field performances, hurts more from it.
I am sure there is a happy medium that can be found where the fans know their boundaries and the players also accommodate the fans’ requests from time to time. After the Gilchrist incident, we saw another Australian player but no one seemed to bother him. He was just standing a corner – The former Aussie test player Greg Blewett who made huge headlines when he splashed on to the international scene but his career petered out and he has become a commentator now. I identified him and pointed out to my buddies who asked me, “Greg blew what?”. Eventually, they went and asked him for a picture and he was more than happy to oblige. We even ran in to the former West Indian great Sir Vivian Richards at the cricket ground next day. He walks around Antigua as if he owns the island (and in some locals’ minds, he does). He was gracious enough to give us a few minutes of his time to chat and tell us how disappointed he was too, in that India were knocked out early from the World Cup. We shook his bucket-sized hands and were thrilled about chatting up one of the true greats of the game. Good times.