Pitch invasions: they’re just cricket

Complaining about cricket pitch invasions reveals more than a touch of the bad loser.

Rob Lyons

Topics Politics

It is what financial analysts might call a ‘long overdue correction’.

England’s cricketers, buoyed by four series victories in Test matches, have been brought back to Earth in the triangular one-day tournament with Australia and Pakistan. They contrived to lose all six of their matches – including scoring a paltry 86 against Australia, their lowest-ever run total in a one-day game. On Thursday 21 June, they managed the slightly more respectable total of 176, only to see Australia knock off the runs with hours to spare.

Yet the back pages have not been filled with praise for the batting of Ponting and Gilchrist, or the devastating bowling of Waqar Younis. Instead, the issue has been law and order – following pitch invasions by Pakistan supporters. In the match at Leeds, fans dashed on to the pitch too early, when Pakistan still needed four runs to win – and in the melee, a steward was quite badly hurt. England captain Alec Stewart conceded the game when it became clear that continued play would be difficult, if not impossible.

Nottinghamshire cricket club decided to try plastic fencing of the kind you would be embarrassed to be seen buying from a local DIY store. It proved to be useless for crowd control, surviving for only seconds.

Out came the hang-’em-and-flog-’em brigade, cricket-style. ‘Bring out the dogs’, said England legend Ian ‘Beefy’ Botham. Exemplary arrests and heavy fines, suggested Ben Hollioake. From much of the coverage, you would have thought pitch invasions were an entirely new phenomenon, rather than the ritual end to every moderately interesting cricket match.

In fact, cricket has never before seen the playing area as sacrosanct. When I was a season ticket holder at Edgbaston, home of Warwickshire, during every interval you would see young boys playing cricket at the boundary edge. In the summer sunshine, upturned holdalls for wickets, ‘Howzat, umpire?’.

And at the end of every Sunday League game we would all stand at the boundary, waiting for the winning run to be scored so that we could run on to the pitch. We didn’t actually run anywhere in particular, just on to the hallowed turf. If you were lucky, you got to pat one of your favourite players on the back as he went into the pavilion. We didn’t know why we did it; it was just the done thing. It was a bit of excitement at the end of a long day, and frankly, there isn’t a lot of visceral excitement at the average cricket match. Cricket needs all the atmosphere it can get.

So there is more than a touch of the bad loser about the current discussion. Would people have complained so loudly if the pitch invaders had been victorious England supporters? Hardly. Darren Gough, England’s leading fast bowler, got it right when he said he really didn’t mind the crowd running on to the pitch. ‘As long as they give us a minute to get off!’ He recalled the brilliant atmosphere when England were winning Test matches and the whole crowd seemed to be on the pitch chanting at the end of the game.

In fact, Pakistan supporters have historically been on the receiving end at Leeds. The Western Terrace, filled with Pakistan supporters on this occasion, usually plays host to Yorkshire’s finest bigotry. One supporter told the Observer in 1996, ‘White spectators behind me…were screaming “Stab the Pakis!”. Abuse was coming from all directions. Beer was thrown over Pakistani supporters in the front rows. As a group of middle-aged Asians protested half way back up the terraces, they too were pounced upon and led away by stewards and police. White spectators around them chanted their support for the police: “Take them out! Take them out!”.’ (1)

The biggest crime committed by the Pakistan supporters (born and bred in Leeds, Bradford and Leicester) was to enjoy the game – and to particularly enjoy beating England. How dare they?

Read on:

What’s not cricket?, by Angus Calder

Cleaning up cricket, by Rob Lyons

(1) See quote in Cricket’s racial conundrum, on the Hit Racism for Six website

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Topics Politics


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