The gentlemen’s game has seen many unforgettable moments and stunning feats down the decades.
It has seen records being broken and new ones being set. It has been witness to wickets falling in a heap, bowlers being taken to the cleaners, batters being floored by nasty deliveries, stunning catches or direct hits finding batsmen short of the crease.
However, while the great moments will live on, so will some unseemly and downright ugly off-field incidents- the cricket controversies- which brought infamy to the game.
The first such incident that comes to mind was at the hallowed Eden Gardens during the first semi-final of the 1996 World Cup. While cricketing golden memories at the ground far outweigh the forgettable episodes, Eden can’t ever shake-off the taint from that incident.
As it it’s wont, the famed coliseum was buzzing with, what seemed, a million voices as Indian openers came out to chase the modest Sri Lankan score of 252.
However, the mood in the packed stands turned bitter as the Indians slipped in their chase. With the ball turning square under the lights, the Indians were reduced to 120 for 8, with 15 overs still to play.
Tears and anarchy at Eden Gardens
The match was in Lanka’s kitty as not even a miracle could save India from defeat. The crowd, which had been growing restive with the fall of every wicket, erupted in anger as a humiliating World Cup exit stared India in the face.
The crowd started throwing objects on the ground and lobbed lit paper torches near the stands. Fearing for the safety of players marshalling the boundary line, then Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga called his players off the pitch.
The on-field umpires called a brief halt to the game in the hope that calm would be restored soon. However, shortly after the game resumed and Muttiah Muralitharan came on to bowl, the crowd started throwing bottles again.
Soon, match referee Clive Lloyd suspended the game and declared the Lankans as deserving winners. An abiding image from the game is of Vinod Kambli walking off the field in tears.
Eden was also the scene of another incident, which happened way back in 1967 but is still fresh in public memory. It ranks among the most bizarre and chaotic incidents ever seen on a cricket field.
An ugly bust-up between spectators and the police brought play to a grinding halt on the second day of the second Test between India and West Indies. Even the first day had been marred by a minor crowd trouble and the game was held up briefly.
However, all hell broke loose on the second day after a section of crowd breached the playing area due to overcrowding. As police resorted to a lathi charge on the crowd, Sitesh Roy, an elderly spectator, stood up in protest. The crowd turned on the police as a bloodied Roy slumped to the ground.
The crowd, which had turned into a riotous mob by then, went after the police with bamboo poles, ripped apart from the stands. Close to 200 people, including 52 police personnel, were injured in the incident.
Thankfully, however, the match resumed after a rest day.
Sahara Cup 1997
Another infamous incident that comes to mind was an off-field scuffle involving Pakistan batting great Inzamam ul Haq during the Sahara Cup match in 1997.
A spectator in the packed stands chanted ‘aaloo’ (potato) at Inzamam while he was marshalling the boundary line. Incensed, Inzamam asked for a cricket bat before he ran into the stands and confronted the fan of Indian origin.
However, shedding more light into the incident, former Pakistan captain Waqar Younis said the ‘Aaloo’ chant was not the only trigger for the scuffle. The fan had apparently made a snide remark about Mohammad Azharuddin’s wife, riling Inzi.
While there are many similar cricket controversies that brought a bad name to the game, these are ones that often hogs the discourse even today.