Cricket, which was once limited to British aristocrats and the elites, has evolved to become one of the most popular game in the Indian subcontinent. It is a common sight to see cricket fans in Southeast Asia to remain glued to their TV for hours in anticipation of what is to come.
While it is not unusual for ‘passionate’ and over-enthusiastic cricket lovers to get into heated arguments over a game or engage in unruly behaviour in the stands, it is seldom that we witness fanatic mobs go berserk, disrupt a match and rough up authorities. One such disgraceful event took place on June 17, 2001, during the NatWest series between Pakistan and England.
The match was being played at Headingley in Leeds. England’s batting line-up was ripped apart by the legendary Pakistani bowler Waqar Younis, who managed to get 7 wickets while conceding just 36 runs in 10 overs. A superlative bowling attack by the Pakistani side ensured that England was wrapped up at a paltry score of 156 in 45.2 overs. With 157 runs to win the game, the Pakistani cricket team was all set to clinch the match.
With a stellar batting performance of all-rounder Abdul Razzaq, the match was in Pakistani’s court. The team has managed to put 153 runs on the scoreboard in just 39.5 overs. Azhar Mahmood and Younis Khan were on the crease and set to score the winning runs.
Pakistani cricket fans invade the pitch
And then something unexpected happened. Hordes of unruly Pakistanis jumped over the fence, shoved the ground staff on the way and invaded the pitch, prompting the English cricketers to run to safety. While they weren’t satisfied with disrupting the match, the mob roughed up a ground steward (whose responsibility is to ensure that fans abide by the rules) and inflicted grave injuries during the stampede. And the next thing that the Pakistanis did was fight amongst themselves for the possession of stumps.
“A massive pitch invasion as Azhar flicks one down to long leg for 4 or 6 not sure what was called Pakistan still need runs to win this game…one of the stewards has been injured in the celebratory invasion…,” a commentator noted. The actions of the Pakistani cricket fans, reminiscent of ignorance, was thus out for the world to see.
How the authorities can let this happen?… They are all over the pitch. They are all over the square. This is absurd… This is complete nonsense. It can (compromise) safety of players and spectators,” he added. Hinting at their poor comprehension skills, the commentator remarked, “It’s 2 to win. That’s all. Surely these people (Pakistanis) can read scoreboards.”
Aftermath of the pitch invasion
Since the England captain Alec Stewart decided to not return to the pitch, keeping in mind the safety of the players, the match was conceded to the Pakistani team. An article by sports writer Ralph Dellor, detailing the events of the day, read, “Such was the scale of the pitch invasion, and with a steward lying near the wicket with internal and head injuries, the game had to be regarded as finished.”
He further added, “Rather than going out again when the pitch was eventually cleared, Stewart decided that England would accept the inevitable and so the unique entry in the record books: England conceded the match.” Alec Stewart had demanded strict measures from the International Cricket Council (ICC) to ensure that such events are not repeated in future.
“The warnings must be heeded before an unfortunate incident becomes a major tragedy. That is not a question of “if” but “when”. The effects that would have on cricket and the social structure of the country do not bear thinking about,” Dellor concluded.