When Bangladesh’s Tiger and Chacha Chicago, the India fan from Pakistan, met in Sri Lanka
Bangladesh cricket team is playing a warm-up game against the Sri Lanka Board President’s XI at the quaint Colombo Cricket Club ground. One voice booms around the relatively-empty stadium with tremendous energy: “Shabash, Shabash boys. Keep it going.”
Following that, there is another sound that resonates in the Colombo air, so loud that it scares the crows away. The chant is “India, India”.
The voices come from Shoaib Ali and Mohammad Bashir, two cricketing superfans. Shoaib is the fan who paints his body to resemble a tiger and vociferously waves the Bangladesh national flag during his team’s matches. Bashir is known as ‘Chacha Chicago’, and hails from Pakistan, lives in Chicago, but is an ardent Indian cricket team supporter.
Bashir and Shoaib represent the sub-continent group of the cricketing superfans, joining the likes of India’s Sudhir Gautam, Ram Babu and Sri Lanka’s Gayan Senanayake, whose popularity matches that of the players.
Doing it for country
Shoaib, who started out as a motor mechanic in a village about 50 km away from Dhaka, started his journey as a cricket superfan in the Asia Cup game between India and Bangladesh on March 16, 2012. The day is historic as Sachin Tendulkar scored his 100th international century.
“That match changed my entire life. I saw how Sudhir and Chacha supported India and I felt I must also support my team the same way. When Bangladesh performed brilliantly in the Asia Cup, I decided to be like them,” Shoaib gushed.
Ahead of the 2018 Nidahas Trophy clash between India and Bangladesh, Shoaib’s voice is tinged with emotion when he speaks about the last Twenty20 match between these two sides, which was the one-run loss in the 2016 World T20 in Bangalore. “We were on the verge of winning. Looking at the way how we lost, I cried inconsolably,” Shoaib said.
A couple of years ago, a photoshopped image of Bangladeshi fast bowler Taskin Ahmed carrying the severed head of MS Dhoni created a stir. Shoaib said those who do these things are not real fans.
“The fans who truly love cricket will never do such a thing. These things are an attempt to create a wedge between fans,” Shoaib said.
When Shoaib was asked this question, Chacha Chicago came from behind and grabbed his neck in jest and asked him sternly to apologise for that moment.
‘Love Dhoni more than my wife’
When one interacts with Bashir, you feel he is more Indian than Pakistani. His love for the Indian cricket team started during the 2011 World Cup semi-final against Pakistan in Mohali.
“When I arrived for the semi-final in Mohali, I was told that there were no tickets available. I took out a placard and wrote, “I want to see the match”. On the second day, a man came with an envelope which contained tickets. He said, ‘This has come from Dhoni sahab’. I did not know MS Dhoni at that time. When I saw the tickets, I was overjoyed. Trust me, I love MS Dhoni more than my wife,” Bashir said.
Labelled a traitor
Chacha Chicago has had to face many taunts for his love for India. In the Champions Trophy match last year between India and Pakistan in Birmingham, he faced some ugly situations.
“Many people asked me, ‘Why do you support India?’ I only reply by saying you will get so much love in India. All the old people have filled the minds of the youth with poison that India is our enemy. It is nothing like that.”
Patriotism and passion for the game is the common bond of the three superfans have, making cricket richer in the process!
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