India tour of England: The inscrutable English crowd

With the tour almost over, it’s still hard to say if the fans in blue like India more or loathe England.

Written by Daksh Panwar | Birmingham | Updated: September 7, 2014 9:08 am
Dhoni would like to finish a long tour on a high by winning the solitary T20 international at Birmingham, and keep his supporters happy. (Source: AP) Dhoni would like to finish a long tour on a high by winning the solitary T20 international at Birmingham, and keep his supporters happy. (Source: AP)

The last time India featured in a twenty-overs affair at Edgbaston, Birmingham, was on June 23, 2013. MS Dhoni and his men defeated England by five runs in what was actually a rain-curtailed One-Day International — but for all practical purposes a T20 — to win their first non-shared Champions Trophy title. The last time India faced the home side in a full 50-over match at this venue was this past Tuesday. They thrashed England by 9 wickets to seal their first bilateral ODI series win on these shores in 24 years.

On Sunday, India will be back at their favoured ground to end what has been a long winding summer. Unlike their previous two outings, Sunday’s one-off T20 will be a most inconsequential game, but they would like to finish the two-and-a-half month tour with a flourish and give their supporters — and there are many here — another reason to cheer their team. Or to jeer England. Birmingham, UK’s second biggest city, has a huge South Asian population — nearly one in every four persons traces his/her roots to the subcontinent. One in eight to India. It was perhaps one of the reasons why India and Pakistan faced each other here in the Champions Trophy last year. Also why Edgbaston, and not Lord’s or the Oval, hosted the final. They are fanatics when it comes to cricket. But it’s hard to fathom if they like India more or if they loathe England.

Tumultuous tour

These have been deeply fractious 11 weeks. The tone of the tour was set very early on by James Anderson’s alleged pushing of Ravindra Jadeja during the first Test at Trent Bridge and India’s vigorous pursuing of the matter. Madness, the Joker said in The Dark Knight, is like gravity — all it needs is a push. Once it was provided, madness took over. Jadeja was booed during Tests, Anderson during ODIs.
Along the way, it became ludicrous and even embarrassing. A player hounded out so completely when he is fielding in the deep or coming out to bat. You felt for Anderson. Which, knowing fully well that he is a sly sledger, is saying a lot. But Edgbaston the other day felt like a stadium full of trolls. It felt like Twitter at its worst.

Unlike social media, where such madness lasts for a day or two probably, it has continued here. And it will go on tomorrow, despite the fact that Anderson won’t be there. They booed Birmingham lad Moeen Ali in the fourth ODI here. Then Alastair Cook copped some in final One-dayer at Leeds. Madness is madness for a reason. It doesn’t need one.

Thankfully, the players are sane. Or so they appear, saying the right things, reassuring things: that it doesn’t bother them. That they know how to block it out. “It’s fine, it just goes straight over my head, it doesn’t bother me one bit,” said Ali, when he was asked what he felt when he was booed. “I think it’s maybe because my background is from Pakistan, but it doesn’t bother me. And they have got a Brummy accent or whatever and some of the chants are English chants. But it’s just the way it is, hopefully over time we can change. I spoke to a lot of people and there were a lot of Asians there who were supporting England. But obviously the majority was supporting India.”

No clear answers

There has been a bit of informed commentary on this topic on ESPNCricinfo. The Tebbit test has been invoked, as has been Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech. A few readers have also theorized that British Asians perhaps don’t like England’s cricket team because England don’t win often enough in ODIs, and people tend to back the winning horse. Others have hinted at possible underlying racial discrimination in Britain’s society as the reason for fans’ alienation from the home team. All of which can explain the support for India.
It doesn’t make you any wiser about the booing. To believe that Jadeja-Jimmy episode is the reason is to just skim the surface and not go deep enough. Otherwise, how would you explain this: “…As the emcee on the ground began a roll-call of the playing elevens, the rather partisan crowds cheered hard for one team. That one team, here in Birmingham, was India. The call of each name was followed with a bellowing “Yeah’’. and when the England players streamed out of their dressing room, they were, believe it or not, welcomed with roaring boos.” My colleague Aditya Iyer wrote that for The Indian Express on June 23, 2013.

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