England's fleeting visit to north-east India ended in disturbing scenes yesterday as police dispersed rioting fans with tear gas at the Nehru Stadium. Sections of the 20,000 crowd showed their frustration when it became clear that a waterlogged outfield would stop them watching the fifth one-day international between India and England, and the ensuing battle culminated in several people being taken from the ground with injuries.
The players had been escorted back to the safety of their hotel rooms before an excitable crowd turned violent. While the teams were at the ground fires had been lit on the concrete terraces and plastic water bottles thrown on to the outfield. Though unwelcome, these are scenes that regularly take place on the sub-continent.
But as the crowd's anger grew, advertising hoardings at the back of stands were pulled down and the bamboo supporting poles thrown on the pitch. Worse was to follow, as wire safety fences were shaken until their foundations became loose, with the resultant brick and concrete fragments being thrown on to the pitch, too. Matters came to a head when a spectator crept under the wire fence, ran to one of the 10ft scaffolding stands that was supporting television cameras, and pushed it over. The foolish act resulted in the police charging towards the section of stand where the fan came from. He and an accomplice failed to get under the fence and back on to the terracing in time, and were beaten by police.
As the police ran towards the crowd they were pelted with stones and bricks, and two of their number suffered head injuries. This action resulted in the two pitch invaders being gratuitously kicked by policemen as they sat helpless on the ground.
Before the trouble, a military helicopter was brought in to help to dry the outfield and during discussions between the umpires and the teams it became clear that Andrew Flintoff would be rested by England, making Andrew Strauss captain. But the abandonment of the match means Strauss will have to wait for his chance to lead England.
"I found out I would be captain on Saturday afternoon, when Duncan Fletcher came up to me and had a quiet word," Strauss said. "Fletcher told me that 'Freddie' was going to be rested and asked whether I would captain the side. There are obviously a lot of captains unavailable for one reason or another, but it doesn't matter how the opportunity comes around, it is still a great honour to captain your country.
"I don't know whether I will get another chance to captain here, that will be looked at game by game. But if the opportunity presents itself again I will be very proud to do it. Freddie has put in a massive effort and we will see how he feels before we play in Jamshedpur on Wednesday."
Sensing that the atmosphere at the ground was turning hostile, the England team were whisked back to their hotel.
"We could see spectators becoming frustrated with the lack of play," Strauss said. "I could understand their disappointment when they have paid to get in and the ground, to them, looks fit for play.
"When we arrived at the ground we realised that there were some areas that were just not going to dry. It was unsuitable for a one-day international. The umpires stated that but gave the two teams the option to play if they wanted to, but both Virender Sehwag and myself decided that the ground was not fit.
"We never felt that our safety and security would be a problem. The disturbances weren't anywhere near us. They were quite a way from the dressing-room."
It is four years since India played a one-day international match here. It could be a much longer time before they return.Reuse content