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Swami Army finds voice in the SCG din

It might seem hard to be in good voice when you are getting the raised middle finger for anything more than a mutter.

india Updated: Jan 06, 2004 11:36 IST

"They were in good voice in Adelaide and they are in good voice here," says Sunil Gavaskar. It might seem hard to be in good voice when you are getting the raised middle finger for anything more than a mutter, but the spirit of the men who make up the Swami Army is unflagging.

There have been, following the barracking they have endured, explorations of Australia's racist underbelly in recent weeks, but not too many in the Swami Army -- the band of Indian fans following the team around on this tour -- are ready to take things that seriously.

"It's all in the game," says Shyam Sundar, who is an IT manager in north Sydney and part of the Swami Army. "We've been abused all right but we take it sportingly. We give back as good as we get and then, at the end of the day, we go and have a beer with those very Australian supporters," he says, sitting in the lower tiers of the SCG's Noble Stand.

The army, however, has a small problem with numbers. There are hardly 65 or 70 of them, scattered in pockets all over the ground, compared to the 40,000-odd Australians in the stadium. You can tell where they are by the fluttering tricolour and the chants of "Jeetega hi jeetega, India jeetega". That's not all they chant, though. "We have ones in Hindi, Tamil and English. We sing songs from Bollywood films," Sundar says.

Australians, in response, are a little constrained. They have only Waltzing Matilda. And "Go Aussie go!" But they make up in volume what they lack in variety.

Somehow, with incidents of Indian fans being called "coolie", the debate about whether xenophobia is creeping into Australian cricket grounds has been frenzied this summer. Richard Cashman, a professor at New South Wales University and author of Ave a Go Yer Mug, a book on Australian cricket crowds, has been quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying: "Because the Indian community is more physically prominent than they're used to, that tends to generate a response, especially when India are doing well."

Well, doing well India are and that has made the team's fans generous rather than mean-spirited. "You just can't blame the Aussie fans. What would they face if they were to go to India? It would be far worse," Sundar says. He is not alone. With the Test series in its final lap, there is a feeling, more and more, that much of the booing that the Swami Army has faced was good-natured rather than racist.

"There's no pattern in it. Australia is a wonderful place. People have been friendly, warm and helpful. I am not about to let two jerks colour my perceptions about a country," says Sambit Bal, editor of Wisden Asia Cricket and a man who had been at the receiving end of a "coolie" taunt in Adelaide.

It is indisputable, though, that there has been genuine warmth towards this Indian cricket team and real respect and admiration. Sachin Tendulkar has got standing ovations. But VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly have all collected rather large fan followings too.

And the Swami Army? Well, they are sorry that the series is coming to a close. "It was perhaps the best month-and-a-half of my life," says one fan. Not surprising. This morning, the Army was not bothering with Bollywood songs. They were swinging to Clocks, a track from the British rock band Coldplay's album, A Rush of Blood to the Head, that was playing on loudspeakers before the game began.

Perhaps the lyrics were significant -- from an Aussie fan's point of view. "Lights go out and I can't be saved/Tides that I tried to swim against/Have brought me down upon my knees..." The Army loved it. Who needs anything more?

First Published: Jan 06, 2004 02:08 IST