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Tuesday, Sep 24, 2019

Newsmaker:The Indian cricket fan

The sport is an obsession and matches are holy days for this roving devotee. As the growing tribe follows the team around, they make sure everywhere feels like home.

cricket Updated: Jun 08, 2019 15:54 IST
Aditya Iyer
Aditya Iyer
Hindustan Times
Sudhir Gautam perhaps best personifies Indian fandom. The body-painted, Tricolour-waving fanatic has become famous in his own right.
Sudhir Gautam perhaps best personifies Indian fandom. The body-painted, Tricolour-waving fanatic has become famous in his own right. (iStock)

You know a sport is of great significance to a nation if a fan who follows the said sport becomes famous for simply being that, a fan. Sudhir Gautam, the body-painted, India map-mohawked, Tricolour-waving devotee of the Indian cricket team, is famous for following the famous eleven around the cricket-playing globe. So famous, that when he arrived at the stadium in Cardiff for India’s warm-up fixture to the World Cup, Indian cricket fans gravitated from all corners of the ground to take selfies under his giant flag. Gautam, however, is now celebrity enough to fork his fingers and stare into a couple of cameras before shooing away the waiting majority.

The word ‘passionate’ is used to describe strong fan bases of sports teams around the world—from the diehard supporters of the Boston Red Sox to the hardcore advocates of the Liverpool Football Club, who ‘never walk alone’. But ‘passionate’ is too meek a word for the Indian cricket fan. ‘Crazy’ is more like it. Cricket is often compared to religion in India but the disciples of this faith are more than willing to burn effigies of their gods when they lose. But when the gods win, and this Indian team wins often, they are truly idolised.  

At World Cups away from home, the Indian cricket fan can be largely divided into two main categories – the fan travelling from India to the country hosting the World Cup; and the Indian fan that resides in the host country. The first kind, the Indian Travelling Fan, is the kind that depends heavily on free passes for matches in India but readily splurges to gain access to matches abroad.

Catch the game’s most visible fans at this World Cup
  • Chacha Cricket: Chaudhry Abdul Jalil, aka Chacha Cricket is the grand old man of crazy cricket fans. With his white beard and flowing green Salwar Kameez, he’s been around since the 1980s to wave the Pakistan flag in cricket stadiums around the world.
  • Shoaib Al Bokhari: He is to Bangladesh what Sudhir Gautam is to India—whether it’s cold, rainy, or hot, you will find Bokhari in his tiger-patterned yellow body paint cheering Bangladesh from the stands.
  • Gravy the entertainer: Truly an entertainer, Caribbean cricket is incomplete without the sinewy old man and his long white beard, dressed in crazy costumes, dancing without a care to the sounds of drums.
  • The Barmy Army: Other nations have individuals, England has a whole army. They travel around the world following their cricket team, and singing the funniest cricket songs you can imagine. If there’s a face to the army, it’s Billy The Trumpet, who’s always around to blow the battle horn.

In the days leading up to India’s opening game of the 2019 World Cup in England, the Travelling Fan made their presence felt at the Hilton Hotel that forms the southern stand of the Hampshire Bowl. From their balconies overlooking the ground, they stood with their backs to the practicing Indian team, clicking their beaming Facebook profile-pictures as the men they travelled all the way to see rehearsed in their intimate presence. 

The second kind, the Non-Resident Indian Cricket Fan—is an even more curious beast. Their idea of supporting India is to belie the team that represents the country they live in. During the Champions Trophy final in 2013, tens of thousands of them booed every player of the England team during the roll-call before the toss. Every single England player, greeted with resounding boos in a home game in Birmingham, by men and women speaking in the local Brummie accent.

At the Oval cricket ground during India’s first warm-up game, the Indian Travelling Fan and the Non-Resident Indian Cricket Fan shared space and did not particularly share it well. For, in the stand close to the press box at the Vauxhall End a fight broke out between two men wearing identical blue jerseys after one kind accused the other of, well, being a ‘desi’. Punches were thrown, beer was spilled and for a while, a group of Indians put up a greater fight in the stands than the Indians on the field.

Many of India’s matches are slotted in cities with large Indian diasporas such as Birmingham, Manchester and London – incidentally, the three venues for the knock-out stage of this World Cup as well. With as many as 80,000 fans travelling from India during the course of the tournament, Virat Kohli’s team will have a following second to none. But that is the case everywhere international cricket is played now. The Indian cricket fan has ensured that when the team is away from home, it still feels pretty much like home.

First Published: Jun 08, 2019 15:54 IST