Saturday, December 3, 2011

The 'F' Factor

2001: An important year in history of Nepali sport, especially cricket. The year was to change how cricket was viewed in Nepal. As Kathmandu played host to Youth Asia Cup (later termed as ACC U-19 Cup), the home team defeated Malaysia in the final, with Roy Dias – former Test Cricketer from Sri Lanka – in charge of young boys that were to form a core for the senior team later.
As Malaysian Colts faced Nepali boys in the final, the Malaysian coach – incidentally a Sri Lankan – told yours truly, during the innings break, "It’s difficult for my boys playing against a good team and such a huge crowd. When they play at home, not more than 100-150 people watch them."
That quote sounded like a forfeit already, although half of the match still remained. Indeed, the size of the crowd at the Tribhuvan University Cricket Ground was many folds that the visiting team had ever seen. And they were vociferous too, making it very clear whom they supported. Every delivery that Lakpa Lama tweaked, every ball Binod Das swung, were cheered and made even more difficult to face for the batsmen. For they all came with a roaring noise in the background. And the Malaysian team succumbed, handing Roy Dias and his wards the biggest trophy for Nepal till then.
That is what fans can do. Make their heroes look larger than life, turn them into invincible beings. The clapping hands and roar can create doubts in the opponents' mind, making them falter at the slightest opportunity.
2011: A decade has passed and Nepal stands at another crossroads. There is a change in the team, the in-charge is different. New Coach Pubudu Dassanayake is definitely a breed that the previous coach was not. The players have grown up, and are not slaves to teenagers' anxiety anymore. And together they are working to modernize their approach to cricket. They are ready to turn a corner.
But the fans are the same. They still want the trophy. They still want their players to play like invincibles. They still are ready to back their team, with their claps, with their roars and quite possibly, with their aggression.
Sports watchers, across the world, have a sense of solidarity with their teams. While watching sport, their blood pressure rises, just like the players, and you can see them yelling even at the television screen at home. Crowded by identical beings, their behavior on the ground can go awry at times.
Here, we've seen the best of the fan factor; we've also seen the worst of it. We've seen them queuing up for autographs; we've also seen them invading the pitch.
Fans, as they are biased, can be a double edged sword. They can kill for you, and sometimes they can get you killed. For every cricket enthusiast, it would be wise to remember the incident of February last year and the embarrassment it caused us internationally. The pitch invasion by the crowd during Nepal's match against US in ICC World League Division 5, would always remain as a dark spot in Nepali cricket. As the match was disrupted, Nepali cricket was shamed. ICC, following its own investigation, slapped a conditional ban on hosting matches at the Tribhuvan University Ground.
None, who love cricket in the country, would want a repeat. And for that, the onus is on the spectators themselves. They don't want to be taken as a bad host. For that, they have to prove that they've matured, just as their players have over the years. They need to ensure that the opponent team has to be respected, even if they don't receive moral support. After all, they're also trying to prove themselves, as much as our team does.
And the day fans start being just, nobody can stop cricket development in the country. Not even political interference.

(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly's weekly sports column - OFFSIDE - in The Kathmandu Post, on 3rd December, 2011)
Photo: taken by self