In 2003, when Jacob Oram ran down to stand 20 feet away from where I was sitting, fielding at long-on in a low-scoring Australia versus New Zealand ODI in Guwahati's Nehru Stadium, the crowd instantly began hurling insults at him, forcing him to swap places with Daryl Tuffey mid over. This is the only incident I remember from the first cricket match I attended at a stadium because I couldn't understand why the crowd would get personal with a player during a tri-series match where the home team wasn't even playing.
Instances of the crowd getting rude and unruly during a cricket match are far from unheard of, and several players have been caught reacting to such behaviour too. But Guwahati stands alone when it comes to the sheer number of incidents involving members of the audience getting downright violent during or after a cricket match.
Indian cricket witnessed one of its darkest episodes in 2006 when frustrated fans in Guwahati gave vent to their anger by torching billboards, throwing broken bottles and burning bonfire at the Nehru Stadium after an ODI between India and England was abandoned without a single ball being bowled. I remember the Indian team taking rounds of the field to calm their dejected fans down, but the crowd resumed the violence once the players went away.
Eventually, the police had to fire tear gas shells to evacuate the stadium, resulting in injuries to at least a dozen people, including policemen.
Growing up in Guwahati, an international cricket match was an annual affair at best. With the construction of a new stadium that suffered multiple long delays, it took seven years for cricket to return to the city, since the last encounter between India and New Zealand (there were only a couple of international fixtures organised between these two afore-mentioned times New Zealand visited the city).
On Tuesday, after Australia pulled off an eight-wicket win over India in the second T20I of the series in Guwahati, having dominated the hosts, the Australian team bus was attacked by a mob.
Pretty scary having a rock thrown through the team bus window on the way back to the hotel!! pic.twitter.com/LBBrksaDXI
— Aaron Finch (@AaronFinch5) October 10, 2017
Although Finch's teammates did not mention anything about the incident, captain David Warner and Glenn Maxwell retweeted Finch's post on Twitter, with other reports saying that the incident has "left a sour taste in the mouth". Since then, several Indians have tweeted condemning the incident that was embarrassing if nothing else.
— ANI (@ANI) October 11, 2017
It can only be assumed that the miscreants were unhappy at India's loss and vented their annoyance by pelting rocks "the size of cricket balls" at the visitors' team bus, risking serious injury to the players. Although not at par with the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan bus in Pakistan because of the choice of weapon — and irrespective of the motive behind the attack — Tuesday's incident demands serious scrutiny just because it has players' safety at stake.
If this is how Guwahati responds after India loses a well-played cricket match, and given how less often it gets to witness them, the city does not deserve to host such events. If this is how we respond to a loss, I shudder to think what would have happened if the match was abandoned due to rain, a real possibility according to weather forecasts ahead of the match. By pure arithmetic, a cricket match in Guwahati is more likely to end in untoward incidents involving the crowd than any other city in the country.
Guwahati is the only city in the North East which has an active cricket stadium; so a match here is an opportunity for people from the entire region to witness their stars in action. A match here is also one of the only times in the year the city enjoys national attention. The city is not alien to big-ticket encounters, with Guwahati being the home ground of the Indian Super League (ISL) club Northeast United FC. But if the crowd does not start to behave as it usually does in the football matches, there is no reason for cricket to return to Guwahati.