Published in The Cricket Sadists Quarterly, July 2010
Those were the golden days when intruders onto the cricket field had the cajones to go at it buck-naked and take on neanderthals like Andrew Symonds wielding a bat. When Khalid Latif got blindsided by a cowardly running tackle by that sun-bleached Matthew McConaughey lookalike at Perth during the ODI on January 31, 2010, consternation rained down on the officials in charge of security at the WACA. There would have been more venom spewed, but Shahid Afridi’s gnawing nabbed all the attention that night, relegating that pathetic stunt by the booze-marinated beach bum to the back pages.
A repeat viewing of that bizarre incident is in fact educational – especially for security experts and consultants; not just at the WACA, but everywhere. And when it pops up on your screen on YouTube, ignore McConaughey and zoom in on the security guard he hoodwinked to even reach Latif in the first place. Well, hoodwinked would be a monumental exaggeration, for take look at that gentleman in uniform.
Security guard? More like a genial bus driver. One with the profile of a bathtub. Someone who hasn’t missed too many lunches in his lifetime. The sole purpose of his presence that day was to make the interloper take the longer route to get to Latif by going into orbit around him. You can see his red-faced but futile efforts to reach down to un-entangle Latif from the booze-hound wrapped around him. It wasn’t until the reassuring appearance of his slimmer colleague that sanity was restored and the bus driver marched off the imbecile, all the while wheezing from the exertion he had been put through.
Security, needless to say, is serious business in cricket these days. It is a topic that can make or break tours and force events to be shifted across oceans when it is in doubt. The horrific events of Lahore last year have left their indelible blot on cricket. M16 and AK-47 toting commandos now line the driveways leading up to pavilions and surely the hallways inside. Helicopters buzz the routes taken by team buses. Government officials hold press conferences extolling security readiness. Some even twitter and tweep their confidence levels out to the ether.
All that twittering aside, it is glaringly obvious that we i.e. the poor sods in the bucket seats, are barely humoured when it comes to matters of reassurance. Mr. Bus Driver at the WACA is symbolic of that. Sure, our biggest worry might be that the obnoxious nitwit sitting behind may end up emptying his beer down our shirt backs. Or that the stern schoolmaster sitting in front may unfurl his umbrella and deliver a poke in the eye at the first sign of a cloud in the sky. But seriously, who is around to stare down the wacko waiting to ding Sachin with a samosa when he is patrolling third man? Whose glares are stopping that delinquent in his tracks from hopping the wire-fence and giving little Duminy a wedgie? Who is on my side when I try to needle the other team’s supporters with taunts that their mommies wear gumboots and wrestle whales?
It is all about deterrent and détente, you know…
A glare here, a strategically flexed bicep there and a few curt words from someone who looks capable of bending down and tying his shoelaces without toppling over is all it would take. Sure, we will have impulsive urges to harangue, heckle and harass players within earshot for what they just did or what we know they are about to do, but heck, we do not want to see them harmed. We just want them to work their butts off – for the sole purpose of our pleasure. But we the money paying denizens do prefer to feel secure during our expressions of enjoyment, antics, revelry, noise making, booty shaking, needling of each other, consumption of excess alcohol, lecherous remarks and all.
Remember, we are the atmosphere. The alternative would be to shuttle in busloads of monks to watch the match.
But in spite of the “arrive five hours before play starts to allow for adequate frisking and cavity searches” threats we face, I don’t see any overt display of reassurance to boost our confidence anywhere. Do you? On the contrary, an analysis of the security arrangements at cricket stadiums worldwide reveals a very familiar pattern. To put it mildly, we are being taken for a ride. We (i.e. the atmosphere), are not even being fed the illusion of security. If our buttocks twitch nervously in those expensive seats instead of feeling warm and fuzzy, justification exists for that. Just look at who is protecting the same arses – from Antigua to Vishakapatnam – and it will be obvious.
Trust me on this one, I have taken a look.
That affable security supervisor in the baseball hat at the Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua leaning against the railing, chattin’ up Gravy, while at the same time keeping one eye on the tangle of bikini-clad babes in that mini-pool/jacuzzi (which genius came up with that one?) sure don’t reassure me. The overworked vendor with the tray of peanuts and habanero infused pork-rinds barking at spectators looks more threatening to me. All venues in the Caribbean would do better to just have Vivian Richards or Curtly-don’t-talk-to-no-one Ambrose do a walk-through of the throngs and dish out glares here and there. See if there is a peep out of anyone after that.
The neon vest draped staff roaming the boundaries at Lord’s, Edgbaston and Old Trafford look like they were picked up off the back of a flatbed truck from throngs of folk on the dole – who lined up for work at a quarry or a construction site. They look too dazed and confused by the crowds to be of any use. And the constables walking with their hands behind their backs through the crowds? Hello…your ruddy faces and red eyes are dead giveaways, sirs. How come no one frisked you for those mickeys of Pimms you are packing and have been dipping your beak into all day?
And Sri Lanka. Every security man there looks like a splitting image of either Romesh Kaluwitharana or Arjuna Ranatunga. Split equally between the two. Now c’mon, can anyone resist putting their arm around the shoulder of Kalu and tousling his hair? Aww…its little Kalu. So what if he is glaring at you? And Arjuna? Enough said.
New Zealand : I have to admit, never have I spotted anyone resembling a security officer or official there yet. Security against what? Psychotic sheep? Or perhaps they have delegated all crowd-control duties to Daniel Vettori. He does everything else anyway.
South Africa, I will grudgingly grant, is an anomaly. Can’t put my finger on it yet, but the Saffers seem to have it together. Somehow that multicultural crowd intermixed with statuesque super-models tanning themselves always seems to be in a state of harmony. Must be something in that bugle-call from the rugby World Cup that has been co-opted by everyone these days. Spooky! Kind of Manchurian Candidate-ish.
Security in Australia as we all know too well is in the hands of bus-drivers in bushranger hats. And Andrew Symonds.
Pakistan? I present Multan, 2004. As Virender Sehwag was gnashing away at Shoaib Akhtar and Co. on his way to his triple ton, cameras panned to the stands next to the pavilion. And my first reaction was, “Oh jeez, they have opened up a dhaba on the members stand!” For, there sat a long line of policemen in various stages of relaxation – asleep, zoned out, staring into space, chatting on cell-phones, exchanging pleasantries, offering each other paan – as a tray bearing waiter delivered cups of tea to them. A few roused themselves grudgingly to accept the chai, shifting lugubriously around in that idyllic scene. Heart warming it was, and not that big a deal either. For there were about twenty seven spectators dispersed around the cavernous stadium and they were comfortably outnumbered by the uniformed chai-sippers.
And India. Query to all Indians: are all your uncles security officers? I need to check with my family about this. In fact, we all need to double-check this. For they appear to have collectively infested the ranks of the khaki-clad. No amount of officious paraphernalia – uniforms and equipment included – can disguise the fact that the chortling, moustached and pot-bellied face at square-leg is the same one you find snoring on the sofa after lunch at family gatherings, betel juice trickling out of the side of his mouth. The one who always rings the doorbell with a box of laddus in his hand.
And the rack of grinning uncles sitting shoulder to shoulder behind the cheer-leaders’ stage at the IPL, lathis clutched diligently between their legs, inching lower and lower in their chairs to sneak a peek up you know what – that group has a more fundamental problem that will dilute our confidence in their abilities. They are certifiable cricket nutjobs! There is no hope, absolutely none, of their attention being diverted by anything in the stands. You could take your shirt off and do a Tyler Durden on someone and splatter blood, but they would be too busy busting a vein about Munaf letting one through his legs to be bothered with you. Or pissing themselves silly about Akmal dropping a sitter.
It is a dire situation out in the bleachers as you can see. And it is screaming for an urgent overhaul. Hint to officials: think Lee Marvin and the “Dirty Dozen”. Do something. If not, cricket better brace itself to see more players getting ploughed into the ground and many more grinning streakers making it out to the middle to run circles around Rudi Koertzen.