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DILEEP PREMACHANDRAN
TWELFTH MAN

Dileep Premachandran is editor-in-chief of Wisden India

Subcontinent has the craziest fans, & it’s affecting the cricket

West Indies' bus was attacked by a mob in Dhaka after Bangladesh were bowled out for 58.

ome would have found it insensitive, but Michael Atherton certainly struck a nerve with the first question he asked Shakib al Hasan after Bangladesh's epic last-gasp victory against England. "Last week, they were stoning your house," he said. "This week, do you think they'll build you a new one?"

Shakib answered with a smile, but the question shed light on both Bangladesh's topsy-turvy performances and the schizophrenic nature of the support. Vilified as zeroes after the 58-all-out defeat against West Indies, the players' bus was serenaded by delirious fans when they finally left the stadium in Chittagong.

Across the subcontinent, in Pakistan, a new Kamran Akmal joke crops up every few seconds. Much more sinister though were the tweets revealing his address as his performance plumbed new depths in the game against New Zealand. Players from Australia, England and South Africa can talk glibly of pressure. But for those from the subcontinent, it has especially nasty connotations.

The concept of cricket being a sport, where one team necessarily has to lose, has been lost amid clouds of hysteria and jingoism. Defeats are lazily equated to a loss of national pride, and too much is made of victories. And yet we feign shock when players retreat into a bubble.

A Bangladeshi friend disgusted by fan behaviour after the loss to West Indies wrote to me: "The one thing that puts their countries on the global map in a positive manner is hijacked by bigoted boorishness - unfortunately. A sportsman fails - it is in the sight of millions. These 'fans' don't even see themselves fail in front of a mirror. Though they should."

t's even more mystifying that educated people justify such conduct by saying that it's par for the course when you're paid so handsomely for your efforts. Since when was it okay to attack someone's house for failure on a sports field? M.S. Dhoni, who understands Shakib's situation better than most, said it best. "They should remember that it's not players, but family members inside, who have nothing to do with cricket. You have to control emotions. When I win, I don't start hitting everyone in the street, saying you attacked my house in 2007."

Even victory doesn't keep the boorish behaviour at bay. A BBC reporter spoke of "a horrible encounter with a pushing, pinching, groping crazy mob outside the ground" after the Chittagong game. Much is made of lathi-charges and the police have undoubtedly been high-handed at times, but there's an increasing hooligan streak that makes such measures inevitable.

Shakib was photographed showing the middle finger to fans after the West Indies loss. Unacceptable from a national team captain, but clearly the result of a young man being subjected to outrageous abuse. In recent years, Indian crowds have not even spared Sachin Tendulkar. It's almost as though buying a ticket validates the worst kind of behaviour.

The players are aloof and "arrogant", easy to say when you don't have to deal with what they have to. I've lost count of the number of times personal space has been invaded for photographs to be taken, almost always without permission. If you put your arm around a man and his wife uninvited, chances are that you'd be slapped for your troubles. But if a player reacts, it becomes a scandal. The media acts as the oil on the fire, encouraging unreasonable expectations and hunting for scapegoats at the slightest sign of the team faltering. Prior to the tournament, Bangladeshi experts were talking of winning the cup. It was conveniently overlooked that they have won just three games against Test-playing opposition in three World Cups. As Bangladesh inched towards the target on Friday night, Shakib's face had a tormented expression. He didn't look 23. It was enough to make you wonder just how much more successful he, Akmal and Dhoni would be without an Atlas-like burden to shoulder every single day.

 
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