There are people out there who will go to any extent to talk to their favourite cricketer. At least, that’s what can be gauged from the recollections of Bernard Fernandes, who recently quit as a receptionist at the Indian cricket Board headquarters in Mumbai after 15 years of service.
Fernandes recalls that he routinely fielded calls from fans asking to be connected with some top player or the other – in some instances, while the cricketer was in the middle of a match. It took a lot of politeness and patience to hear them out and tell them that their request could not be entertained.
“One day, a man called up and said his father was about to die and that he wanted to hear the voice of this cricketer, is it possible to speak to him?” Fernandes recalls for The Indian Express. “How could I rudely tell them that they don’t stay in BCCI’s office. I need to respect their emotions; I just politely made them understand the situation that it is not possible for him.”
The BCCI landline phone tends to ring off the hook on India’s match days. Even on non-match days, BCCI gets calls from fans enquiring about match tickets or a request to speak to a cricketer.
In the past few years, fans from South India has been calling to speak to ‘Thala’ aka Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Asking him not to retire is the common line. There are fans who want to speak to Virat Kohli and, at times, even retired Army officers call up, says Fernandes.
“So what if he is batting now, can’t I speak to Virat Kohli?” “I want to speak to my Thala (MS Dhoni) now, I want to tell him not to retire’.
Fernandes used to try his best to ensure such fans saw reason.
“The match is on, the match is happening in some other part of India. I always tell them, ‘sir Kohli is batting, how can he speak’ but some of them remain stubborn and say try in break.”
Another common request from fans is the phone numbers of top cricketers. Interestingly, Kohli, Dhoni and Rohit Sharma don’t have the biggest female following in this regard. It’s KL Rahul whose number is the most sought after.
One of the most common calls — and annoying to Fernandes — is when people make call up to ask for the score of an ongoing game. “My colleagues and I always used to say, ‘there is TV, the internet, you can check it there’ but people still persist. If I told them the score, they would want more details and ask who scored how many, in how many balls, how many wickets, how many fours-sixes. Sometimes it’s irritating but if you don’t respond, they will abuse,” Fernandes says.
Handling fans can also get tough when India are playing Pakistan. Fernandes recalls a day when BCCI had to shut down its landline for a few hours because fans across the border called up to sing ‘Mauka-Mauka’, the punchline of a television commercial for the World Cup match between the arch rivals. Pakistan has never beaten India on that stage.
When India played Pakistan at the 2015 World Cup, some fans warned BCCI to be ready to face consequences if India lost the game. India won and there was no security issue. But when India lost to Pakistan in the 2017 Champions Trophy final, fans took out their anger by dialling board numbers. Some of them abused Fernandes and his colleagues; some even asked him “why did India play Pakistan when soldiers are dying at the border”.