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Swami Army adds spice to India's campaign Down Under

Among the flag-waving, drum-beating lovers of Indian cricket at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Anurag Verma is trying to remain positive despite his team's seemingly hopeless position against Australia.

india Updated: Jan 08, 2012 10:03 IST


Among the flag-waving, drum-beating lovers of Indian cricket at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Anurag Verma is trying to remain positive despite his team's seemingly hopeless position against Australia.

"We know the match is gone but we're just enjoying ourselves," says Verma, who came straight from the airport from a flight from London to join fellow members of the "Swami Army" on the fourth day of the second Test.

He hoped to see Indian superstar Sachin Tendulkar score his 100th international century -- instead he saw the "Little Master" caught for 80 and India lose by more than an innings.

In the same vein as England's Barmy Army of supporters, the Swami Army are a growing presence Down Under, where they are intent on bringing Bollywood colour and spice to Australian Test matches.

"The aim of the group is not just to support the Indian team but we want to create an atmosphere that people come back and watch live cricket," 30-year-old organiser Amit Grover told AFP.

"You see empty stands during Test matches and that's not a good thing. So it's not just about getting Indian fans out, but all fans out."

Grover, born in Australia to Indian parents, says in every other sport his allegiance is to those wearing the green and gold but cricket is different.

"And that's where this tour is very difficult for us because actually most of us are Indian Australians," he said of the Swami Army. A swami is a Hindu religious teacher, but the name was chosen simply as a play on Barmy Army.

"It's sort of mixed loyalties... because we support Australia all the time when it comes to all the other sports -- rugby union, rugby league, Socceroos, at the Olympics, we're supporting Australia.

"It's just that we've always been fans of Indian cricket and the way India plays its cricket. We still hold onto our heritage a little bit in that sense."

Even a Swami Army tribute to Tendulkar has a distinctly Aussie flavour as it is sung to the tune of the bush ballad "Waltzing Matilda", with supporters chanting: "Sachin Tendulkar, Sachin Tendulkar, Sachin Tendulkar, he is our god."

The Swami Army has been around for more than a decade but since becoming a formal entity five months ago in the lead-up to the four Test series against Michael Clarke's men, it has registered 3,500 members, Grover says.

By the time the Indians came onto the field for the first day of the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground they had 1,400 of the group supporting them and hundreds more on the subsequent days of play, he said.

The undisputed hero of Indian cricket Tendulkar, who has long haunted Australian teams with his high-scoring innings, is a focus for this tour as he chases the elusive hundredth international hundred.

The admiration both nations hold for Tendulkar may have helped smooth the edges of India's last trip Down Under in 2008 when the Sydney Test was marred by allegations of racial insults which threatened to end the tour.

Then, the Australians alleged that Harbhajan Singh called dreadlocked player Andrew Symonds a "monkey", a charge the Indians denied.

It was a very different mood at the SCG on Friday, where a banner read "SCG -- Sachin's Cricket Ground' and fans of both sides stood and applauded Tendulkar along with Clarke and the Australians.

With an Indian flag draped around his shoulders, 21-year-old Narayanan Ramakrishnam credits the Swami Army with lightening the mood of some matches.

"It does create an atmosphere, especially for Test match cricket when you are there for the whole day," he said.

The Swami Army are working with Cricket Australia to ensure tickets for members and have established "regiments" in Britain, the United States, India, Dubai and Singapore, Grover says.

"This is going to be bigger than just the Australian tour. One thing we've realised is that there is no official Indian supporter group out there and that's something that we want to do," he said.

For now though, his mind is on the two remaining Tests and whether Tendulkar will claim his landmark century and India can even the four match series from 2-0 down.

"Everyone's hanging for that century," Grover says. "It will be absolutely fantastic to see, but generally as a whole we just want to see the Indian team improve."

First Published: Jan 08, 2012 10:01 IST

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