Two incidents occurred at the Oval on the day of the India-Australia match. Both involved acts of mob mentality, and indicated that if there is no sensible and balanced referee, things can run out of hand, and fast.
The first incident was the largely Indian audience booing Steve Smith at the boundary line yelling 'cheater' and other epithets. It needed a sporting Virat Kohli to show his annoyance, pat Smith on the back and turn to the audience indicating this was bad form and they should applaud a good player, not boo him. The hissing subsided, courtesy the gesture.
No such referee was present to stop the heckling crowd from getting to onetime liquor baron and high flying fugitive, Vijay Mallya, who strode to his car from a caravan eatery, clearly wanting to be seen but not realising that the crowd comprised Indians from India, not from Southhall, Tooting or Stratham.
Buoyed by the victory over the Aussies, the crowd started reacting to Mallya's presence, relatively mildly at first, but within minutes the booing intensifying into a boisterously loud chant, of 'gali gali mein shor hai, Vijay Mallya chor hai'.
Things got uglier as one person shouted, "Apologise to the country" " a refrain that was quickly picked up. The crowd would not let Mallya get into his car, and along with the hazing, closed in on the vehicle aggressively. It needed just one more instigator and we could have seen the car being attacked, as the mob mindset was perilously close to taking over.
The usual aggressive, devil-may-care Mallya would normally have been expected to be that instigator. But on this day, better sense prevailed on beer baron. Possibly perplexed at this raucous greeting, sensible restraint replaced his usual swagger. All he could do was say 'thank you' and walk towards his car, and in that lay his salvation. Had he reacted with his normal bluster, the heckling could have turned into a frenzy and left him actually hurt. This humble avatar probably rescued him from a couple of hundred beer swilling folks who were just warming to the task. Maybe the one lesson he can take home from here is that humility and grace are often better than belligerence, even if it goes against the grain.
So has Vijay Mallya learnt the advantages of discretion and humility, or was he caught out of his crease? True to his nature, as we know, he had already faced the wrath of cricket loving crowds when he appeared in the balcony and waved regally to the sea of blue, only to be roundly criticized.
So walking off to have a snack from an eatery in the fond imagination that he would press the flesh of the thousands of Indians and win a few pats on the back was a rank bad idea. Also, thanks to all these gizmos and digital platforms, there is a fresh dimension to the mob mentality. Fed courage by each other's presence and believing in their collective anonymity, ignition levels are much lower. You can build into a crescendo in no time at all, and even erupt into violence.
At that critical moment, it is notable that Mallya refused to engage with the mob. Since we are talking about cricket, in game parlance we can say well left, Mr Mallya.