The objects of fans’ affection

Most internationals will sign autographs, pose for selfies and so on. But many appear rude even when they are merely protecting themselves.

Sunil Gavaskar has written about fans invading the pitch, while explaining why cricketers often moved aside from an approaching crowd to protect the wicket.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

I once introduced Krishnamachari Srikkanth to a friend and was taken aback by the reaction. “Oh, I thought you would recognise me,” said my friend in all seriousness. It was as if television was a two-way medium, and those who watched the people performing were in turn watched by the performers. After all, Srikkanth spent a lot of time in my friend’s living room.

I have seen strange reactions when sportsmen have been introduced to fans. “I had begun to believe you were a character out of a movie, like Batman or Superman,” a youngster once told S. Venkatraghavan in his umpiring days, “because every time I turned to a cricket match on TV, there you were!” It might have been a joke, but one with an element of truth in it.

Fans often find it hard to accept that sportsmen are flesh-and-blood beings. Stars are often pinched, scratched, punched, hugged, screamed at, spat at by fans who have a problem reconciling their ‘otherness’ with their ordinariness.

And that’s the point. Fans often treat stars as objects. Objects that exist for their entertainment. In the past when spectators would run on the field as a batsman scored a century, some of them would scratch the player with a blade concealed in a handshake. Sunil Gavaskar has written about this, while also explaining why cricketers often moved aside from an approaching crowd to keep the wicket from being trampled on. Players have been subject to all manner of physical abuse.

When fans treat players as objects, is it any surprise when players return the favour? Most internationals are aware of their responsibilities and will sign autographs, pose for selfies and so on. But many appear rude even when they are merely protecting themselves. Perhaps some sportsmen have a grouse against the fickle nature of fandom, and the manner in which they yo-yo from being zeroes to heroes and back again.

Journalists too sometimes see players as mere tools — necessary evils to build their career and reputations on. Over-the-top criticism might damn a player, maybe even destroy a career, but it could be the making of a journalist.

During a recent home series, I was having breakfast with Virat Kohli when he was pestered (there is no other word for it — fans feel entitled, too) by selfie-hunters. Virat was extremely polite. “You see, I am having breakfast with this gentleman now. When we finish, I will oblige every one of you.” And he did.

“Fans come from great distances. I might be the only player they meet,” he explained to me later. “I want them to have a good impression of Indian players.”

This is at the other end of the scale from the boorishness and crassness exhibited by his colleagues Hardik Pandya and K. L. Rahul on a television chat show. Fans as objects, players as objects, women as objects. There might be a connection.

Clearly, Indian players have more to learn from their skipper than fitness and all-round batsmanship.

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