iconimg Saturday, September 05, 2015

Subhash Rajta, Hindustan Times
Port Elizabeth, September 20, 2010
The army that people are used to seeing at cricket grounds, is usually of the Barmy kind, the famous travelling supporters of the England team. On Saturday, however, spectators at the St George’s Park had the real deal — members of the armed forces in their midst, enjoying the match, not providing security.

Around 1,000 personnel from the Indian Navy stormed the historic stadium and mingled with the gregarious local crowd, turning the already joyous stadium atmosphere into one wild party.

“The four warships of the Indian Navy are on a goodwill tour to South Africa along with a few other countries.

The Indian High Commission asked us whether we would like to see the matches, and we jumped at the opportunity,” said a 20-year-old sailor, before training back his camera at the cheerleaders.

The young sailors fell in sync with the local crowd from the moment they entered the stadium. Dressed in neat black suits, they made the atmosphere even more vibrant as they sang and danced with other spectators through two matches on the trot.

“We are out at sea for about 300 days in a year. So, it’s next to impossible to catch some live action back home. Even if we find time, tickets aren’t available most of the time. So, it’s great fun to get to see cricket match in such an environment,” said another from the group, taking a big swig from his overflowing beer mug.

Even as most of them kept to the stands enjoying the game, a few of the more adventurous slipped to the back of the stands, and had photographs taken with local beauties and were rewarded with some bear hugs. The more shy ones stuck to exchanging notes on food and weather with the locals.

“The boys have been out in the sea for long, ya,” quipped a local journalist. One couldn’t help but agree quietly with him.