Mumbai Indian Captain Hardik Pandya with Rohit Sharma during a practice session

Mumbai Indian Captain Hardik Pandya with Rohit Sharma during a practice session
| Photo Credit: VIJAY SONEJI

Every year the IPL gives rise to many non-stories and irrelevancies. This year (so far) it is the saga of Hardik Pandya versus the fans of Rohit Sharma (and the fans of his own earlier team). Perhaps it’s seen as a change from all that six-hitting which can get tiresome. It has the advantage too of taking the conversation away from stuff like which Bollywood star was seen at which match.

But the ‘booing’ strategy lacks imagination. It is too generalised. As many have reported, Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar are among those who have had the experience. But surely in the thousands of spectators across the country, there is someone with a sense of humour, someone who can raise a heckle without raising a hackle.

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Reports that suggest Pandya is the first Indian to be subjected to such treatment are wrong. In his playing days, Ravi Shastri was greeted at virtually every ground in India with cries of ‘Hai, hai Shastri’. Not for anything he did, but because of spectator perceptions.

Shastri incident

This ‘hai’ is not a synonym of ‘hello’ but a jeer. Shastri dealt with this with remarkable maturity, ignoring it, and as he said, using it as motivation to play better. Tiger Pataudi has written about how close-in fielders stopped sledging him when they discovered it only caused him to concentrate harder.

For a brief period, Shastri was addressed by friends as ‘Hai, hai Shastri’; occasionally, when he greeted someone with a ‘Hi so-and-so’, the response he got had two ‘Hi’s’ in it. In the 80s and 90s everyone thought this was hilarious.

Playing well is the best revenge. Perhaps Pandya should have a chat with Shastri, although he isn’t doing too badly himself, calling the heckling the crowd’s way of saying how much it loves him.

It may have begun as fans’ displeasure at his replacing a beloved captain of Mumbai Indians (according to one report, no Pandya jerseys were on sale outside the Wankhede, with enterprising vendors pushing the Rohit Sharma jersey, having assessed the mood). It will continue till the various spectators find something else to occupy them. After a while the original reasons are forgotten, and the crowd is just having fun. Neither the cricket board nor the local authorities need to get involved even if sections of the media want them to.

Sporting tradition

Heckling is an age-old sporting tradition, and so long as it doesn’t spill over into toxicity with racist, religious or sexual abuse or invectives against family (and there are sensible rules to deal with these), no one can complain. But as players ignore the jibes, the temptation to raise the temperature to provoke a reaction may be strong. Humour (“I wish you were a statue and I a pigeon,” as one heckler in Sydney called out to a player) tends to be inclusive while abuse excludes or ‘others’ the recipient.

Heckling is a gift, calling for a range of gifts not available to everybody at a match. Imagine a stadium full of spectators sitting silently and perhaps nodding their heads occasionally when the batter hits a six or a cover point misfields. The barracker brings to spectatorship an enjoyment and an involvement that is unique.

Cricket’s most original heckler, ‘Yabba’ (Stephen Harold Gascoigne), the author of the above witticism, has been immortalised with a statue at the Sydney Cricket Ground. He sits in typical heckler’s pose, with right hand a half-cup beside his mouth. He was funny, knew the players’ stories and had a voice that carried — three important and necessary qualities.

Game rich in humour

Cricket is a game rich in humour, but publicly neither the media-trained players (“I bowled in the right areas”) nor the player-pleasing media is likely to cause laughter in the stands with a funny line. That is left to the spectator, and if he doesn’t oblige, the game is the poorer.

Sharmila Tagore tells a lovely story of someone sitting near her during a Test match yelling at her after husband Tiger Pataudi had misfielded a ball. “I told you to behave yourself last night,” he screamed. That was funny enough. What was funnier was that the yeller was her father. Passion for the game manifests itself in different ways.


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