Space invaders

When fans foray onto the cricket field

Deepti Unni  |  

Everyone wanted a piece of England's 1953 Ashes win

Everyone wanted a piece of England's 1953 Ashes win © Getty Images

Last month, crowds were back at the SCG for a men's international cricket match - the opening ODI between Australia and India - for the first time since March. Also back was a familiar nuisance: pitch invaders. Two protestors escaped the security cordon and wandered on to the pitch with placards, disrupting the start of the match. A year ago it would have been brushed off as a minor annoyance, but in the new normal it raised serious concerns about the security of the players' bio-bubbles, and risked compromising the entire series.

Pitch invasions and cricket go way back - witness the woodcut below from 1870 - and today's events are pale shadows of the '70s and '80s when it was common for the stands to entirely empty out onto the field at the end of a match, as above, from when Len Hutton's England reclaimed the Ashes in 1953, after 19 years.

The hapless victor of the annual Eton vs Harrow match at Lord's is kidnapped by spectators in this woodcut from 1870

The hapless victor of the annual Eton vs Harrow match at Lord's is kidnapped by spectators in this woodcut from 1870 © Getty Images

When players got to individual milestones, it called for a sweaty pat on the back - or several hundred.

The English players can only watch as Clive Lloyd is engulfed by fans after his making a century at the Oval on the first day of the first Test in 1973

The English players can only watch as Clive Lloyd is engulfed by fans after his making a century at the Oval on the first day of the first Test in 1973 © PA Photos

The most useful training to survive a zombie apocalypse and a pitch invasion: cardio. Never mind that you've spent five days out on the field: when it's time, you have to be able to sprint to the pavilion before the crowd gets to you. This may also explain why players didn't need yo-yo tests back in the day.

Kapil Dev and Co make a desperate dash for the safety of the pavilion after India's win in the 1983 World Cup final

Kapil Dev and Co make a desperate dash for the safety of the pavilion after India's win in the 1983 World Cup final Adrian Murrell / © Getty Images

Some disruptions in the game have come on four legs, much to the delight of spectators, and sometimes cricketers themselves. Merv Hughes found himself chasing one such mutt before the start of the third Test at Trent Bridge in 1993. The canny canine was eventually captured but proved so popular that hundreds of calls poured in for his adoption. The couple that adopted him gave him the only acceptable name - Merv.

Then there's the time Ian Botham had a little beef with a porker. A couple of enterprising veterinary students anaesthetised a piglet and smuggled it into the first Test of the 1982-82 Ashes, reportedly by stuffing an apple in its mouth and convincing the stewards it was meant for a barbecue in the stands. The pig was revived and released onto the field with "Botham" and "Hemmings" scrawled on either flank - a dig at the expanding waistlines of both players - and spent a good bit of time gambolling on the field before it was finally corralled.

Merv Hughes knows cricket can be a dog-eat-dog game

Merv Hughes knows cricket can be a dog-eat-dog game © Getty Images

West Indies fans have staked a claim to the most memorable pitch invasions. Here's a spectator who didn't think rain should spoil the party at a West Indies vs England ODI in Port-of-Spain in 2004.

A new stroke is debuted on the cricket field - the butterfly

A new stroke is debuted on the cricket field - the butterfly © Getty Images

They've also been known to be really polite.

Fans swarmed the pitch to celebrate West Indies 5-0

Fans swarmed the pitch to celebrate West Indies 5-0 "blackwash" in the 1984 Tests against England, and also to offer commiserations to David Gower in the form of a bottle of Thunderbird wine © Getty Images

But their enthusiasm has also brought matches to an early denouement, sometimes to the detriment of their own team. In 1999, spectators disrupted an ODI between Australia and West Indies in Georgetown twice in the last two overs. Australia needed four to win off the last ball, and they almost certainly wouldn't have got it - Steve Waugh hit it to long-on and Shane Warne and he attempted to run four. Would they have managed it? We'll never know because the crowd poured onto the field... and stole the stumps. They also tried to steal Steve Waugh's bat. In the end the match was adjudicated a tie.

Cricket began to take a really serious view of pitch invasions after an unruly mob descended on the seventh match between England and Pakistan at Headingley during the NatWest series in 2001. Pakistan were on the verge of victory when spectators swarmed the pitch and injured a steward attempting to protect the stumps, leaving him with broken ribs. The incident forced authorities to crack down hard on on-field trespassers and introduce hefty fines and even prison sentences for those who broke the rules.

Ben Hollioake tries to find a way out of the scrum at the premature conclusion of the England vs Pakistan match at Headingley in 2001

Ben Hollioake tries to find a way out of the scrum at the premature conclusion of the England vs Pakistan match at Headingley in 2001 © Getty Images

And with rules only getting tighter since then, and more now in a post-Covid world, expect to - players would say thankfully - see a lot less of this

Why the two-new-balls rule hasn't caught on in Tests yet

Why the two-new-balls rule hasn't caught on in Tests yet © Getty Images

Deepti Unni is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

 

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