Hooliganism, threats and violence returned to haunt Delhi cricket once again when the chairman of senior selection committee and former India medium pacer Amit Bhandari was attacked by goons. The attackers were allegedly sent by a disgruntled player who had failed to make the grade in the ongoing selection trials for the upcoming Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
Bhandari and his colleagues from the senior selection committee were at the trials held at St. Stephen's College when a bunch of goons reportedly attacked him with bats, hockey sticks and rods. When Bhandari's colleagues tried to intervene they threatened to shoot him if they did so. He had been receiving threats over the last few days and had informed Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) officials about the same. He was rushed to a nearby hospital after sustaining injuries on head, legs and arms. Later, he was declared out of danger but was left in shock.
DDCA president Rajat Sharma rushed to the hospital along with many of the Delhi first class cricketers who had come for the trials. An FIR was lodged and one of the attackers was nabbed.
Incidents of pressure, threats and even attack on selectors in Delhi have happened in the past too, but the manner in which Bhandari was attacked is unprecedented and has sent shock waves in the entire cricketing fraternity in the state capital.
The DDCA president issued a statement after meeting Bhandari as well as senior police officers, and termed the attack as a cowardly and frustrating act. He promised strictest action on those found guilty. “I just met Amit Bhandari in hospital. He was attacked by 12-13 people. He has been seriously injured and received stitches on his head. He is under observation by doctors. I have assured him that DDCA is with him and we will ensure the strictest possible action against those involved in the cowardly attack. Amit told me that they were pressurising him to select a player who had failed on merit. They had threatened to kill Amit and had a revolver with them. I personally met senior police officers. I have asked the police officers to take the strictest possible action against those who tried to take the life of an honest selector who was just doing his job with sincerity,” said Sharma. He further added that the frustration was a result of the efforts to ensure transparency and merit in the selection of teams representing Delhi in first class cricket.
Former India cricketer Kirti Azad, who has been spearheading the agitation to clean up corruption and vested interests in Delhi cricket, rushed a letter to Sharma expressing his shock at the incident. “It has been a history in DDCA that every couple of years, a goon tries to force his way into the squad, not on merit, but on the back of strong arm tactics. The past has seen entire Selection Committees being sacked rather than pressurising the police to register criminal cases against the delinquent cricket players. Cricket is a gentleman's game but unfortunately, because of past tradition and experience, no action has ever been taken against crooks and criminals, who in the garb of cricketers have created mayhem with active support of Executive Committee members. I would request you to file a criminal case against the said cricketer and his henchmen under serious sections of attempt to murder.” He also requested Sharma to slap a ban on the cricketer who had sent the goons.
Madan Lal, former India cricketer and chairman of the Cricket Advisory Committee set up by Sharma's predecessor Justice Vikramjit Sen expressed his sadness over the incident. Speaking to THE WEEK, he said, “This is very bad. There is no scope for such bad behaviour. Parents of budding cricketers and players themselves must realise that these acts will only end up ruining their careers.”
Lal, under whom Delhi had a stupendous season courtesy to the streamlined manner of selection and cricket activities, blamed the current dispensation for doing away with the protocols established by his committee. “This happened because the DDCA did not have any system. Last season we held all trials in all age groups in summer season. Why should you hold multiple trials before every competition? Once we had a pool of players in each age group, then we don't require to hold more trials through the season. Besides, why should players, who have proved themselves in one format or in various competitions, give trials in the same season? In any case, how much can you deduce regarding a player in one trial? This is bound to lead to selectors being put through more pressure and threats.”
Kirti Azad, while appreciating Sharma's quick response also gave chilling examples of past incidents where former cricketers were made vulnerable to threats and physical harm by vested interests in the DDCA. “A few years back, Vinay Lamba was attacked by the father of a cricketer who had not been accomodated in the Delhi team. In fact, from a physical assault, the charges were scaled down to pushing by the attacker. A former test player was threatened by Vinod Tihara for not selecting his favored cricketer, and the then president hushed up the case by forging a compromise.”
In his email to the DDCA president, Azad revealed the gory side of Delhi cricket which made it so notorious. He warned Sharma of any attempt to tone down the charges on the accused player by his supporters in the DDCA. “As you will agree, cricketers do not have a strong support system, and when they face a physical threat they are inclined to withdraw rather than face the bullies unless the DDCA stands by them. Sadly, so far, the DDCA has hardly ever supported them. In fact, the mutual recrimination and politics by the two main groups, encouraged physical violence against any one who was deemed to be inconvenient in the quest of personal and group goals, and inter group rivalry more often than not, spilled over on the cricketing turf. Even in the current case, I will not be surprised if some of your own EC colleagues try to work out a compromise. The politics of compromise has ruined discipline in Delhi cricket, it is high time that an example is made out of the current episode.”