Excited or emotional? Passionate or possessed? There's a fine line separating the dedicated from the deranged sports fan, and that line fine is evident among some cricket fans in the Asian subcontinent.
Last week in Bangladesh, that line was crossed when Bangladesh suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the West Indies. Bangladesh was bowled out for 58, their lowest ever total in One Day Internationals and the fourth-lowest score in World Cup history.
Later that night, news filtered out that both the West Indies and Bangladesh team buses had been stoned by angry fans while driving back to the team hotel, leaving some windows cracked on the West Indies bus. Another report stated that fans had also stoned the house of Bangladesh captain Shakib Al Hasan.
I was in a similar situation last year while covering the U.S. national team at a tournament in Nepal. The U.S. was playing the hosts in a raucous environment at a field in Kathmandu where about 15,000 fans squeezed onto a terraced hill to support their countrymen. Team USA was inching closer to a crucial win over the host when the Nepalese fans, upset that they were about to see their team lose, started throwing rocks and other debris onto the field.
Police in riot gear had been patrolling the boundary for a few hours in anticipation of this, and as soon as the fans lost control, the police stormed the crowd. A giant dust cloud appeared as about two-thirds of the crowd stampeded toward the road. On the way there, they had to pass the open-air media area. Everyone around me started to bolt from their seats when it became apparent that we were going to be targeted next by the fans.
I don't know if I feared for my life at all, but it was definitely the most nerve-racking situation I've been involved with at a sporting event. Some of the locals shrugged their shoulders and wondered what all the fuss was about, that this was a typical reaction when the home team loses. As if that made it OK. The International Cricket Council went into damage control by putting a gag order on both teams from commenting about the incident and minimalized it by describing it in their official match press release as some "unruly crowd scenes."
What the ICC did not count on in Bangladesh was the role of the Twitterverse. Not long after the West Indies bus was hit, star batsman Chris Gayle tweeted, "This is some bull----. Bangladesh stoning our bus!!! Freaking glass Break!!! This is crap, can't believe. what next bullets!!!!"
The ICC's reaction to Friday's drama wasn't too far off from the PR spin it produced in Nepal. "It was a few individuals who threw pebbles at the bus, and they were pebbles," ICC CEO Haroon Lorgat said. Lorgat's response ignores the fact that on some of the grounds at this tournament, fans are caged in with 10- to 15-foot high wire fencing, which was also the case at the ground in Nepal, out of fear that they'll storm the field in a fit of rage. That is not a measure taken to curtail the shenanigans of "a few individuals."
Unfortunately, there is a nouveau riche aura surrounding the ICC. Hopefully, the game's administrators will one day learn how to deal with cricket's burgeoning wealth. That includes spending enough money on security to make sure everyone feels safe and not belittling those who don't.