There could be many reasons for the ugly reaction of supporters to the defeats of India and Pakistan, but gambling is more likely the root cause. Following the defeats of India and Pakistan in the World Cup, we have witnessed a series of reactions that have brought to the world's attention the unpleasant and extremely ugly face of so-called cricket support in both countries.
Fans have burned effigies of wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and have damaged his under-construction house, demanding that the plot be taken back by the government. They have also suggested that if India does not go further in the tournament, the team should not be allowed to stay in India (what they mean by that is anybody's guess).
Skipper Inzamam-al-Huq has announced his retirement from the one-day game, although this was always expected, even prior to the start of the World Cup. And one of the most disturbing aspects has been the death of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer, the cause of which is not yet known. What we do know is that the job of coaching Pakistan is regarded as one of the more stressful in world cricket.
There have been other strong issues that have seemingly received disproportionate attention, thanks to the fans' involvement: Saurav Ganguly's omission from the team, accompanied by anger against Greg Chappell and followed by effigy burning, a matter reaching West Bengal and Indian mainstream political levels: Demands to drop Virender Sehwag, and the defence against which was offered by none other than Sharad Pawar, President of BCCI.
What is it about the Indo-Pak cricket scenario that promotes such strong reactions? There are no easy answers, but here are some thoughts on the subject:
We do not have any other 'release' for our strong pent-up emotions. We may feel equally strongly about our political issues, but normally the frustrations with the political system are not felt in one go, but over the years. Bollywood rejections are seen simply by empty theatres.
No other sport in the country has anywhere close to the following that cricket has, hence it becomes the focal point of frustration. For most fans, cricket is his own proxy of battle and victory and world leadership. When the team does not win, it is taken that personally.
The sudden increase in financial rewards for cricketers has not helped. The fact is that the huge growth of media and television reach, the accompanying increase in advertising revenue, has brought huge financial rewards. It had to happen, and is completely justified as well. Those who don't accept the fact that cricketers are getting just rewards, perceive this jump as unjustified, and believe that if they are paid so much, they must perform each time they go out on the field. It almost feels as if the cricketers are getting paid from taxpayers' money, which of course, is completely baseless.
The extremes that fans go to, like the damage to Dhoni's house, which was widely televised, could certainly be stopped by the police - if they want to. But do they want to? It appears that the local leadership almost condones the reaction of the fans. Let them go and vent out their anger at Dhoni. And the police don't even attempt to intervene. Does the local political leadership believe that by letting citizens take up small issues like these, they can pursue their own money-making undisturbed'?
Betting is probably the big issue here. I suspect that India and Pakistan contribute to the largest betting in cricket. Officially it is banned, at least in India. Yet it is clear that it is happening. And big time, too. Betting on each ball, on each over, on each player's score, on the winning margins, on just about every aspect of the game. It's a huge gambling pot. From ancient times, gambling has been a part of our culture.
With high stakes involved, lots of money exchanging hands on an apparently un-influencable set of events, there is a tendency to see if money can influence the events. Which is why most betting scandals connected to cricket have their roots in India or Dubai (Indo-Pak melting pot). Do these betting centres influence fan ire? Do they vent the anger of their personal monetary losses on the cricketers? Could well be so.
When will the fans in India and Pakistan look to this as a game, and nothing more? Fine, you can make coffee-table discussion on the subject, perhaps even animated ones. Maybe fans can have strong arguments about their respective favourites. But hey, know where to stop. Don't take your anger to the streets, man.
The biggest reaction that fans can give to the sport, if they feel like rejecting it, is to stop watching the games. The TRPs will fall and the endorsements will go down, and the players will know that only performance will give them their rich dividends. However that's a long term strategy. Meanwhile, fans find it easier to burn effigies.