Any­where in the world, cricket’s largest na­tion can turn a crowd into a sea of blue, writes Jeff Cen­ten­era.


In­dia’s cricket fans have gone global, says Jeff Cen­ten­era.

If there was any doubt in Aus­tralia about the reach of In­dian cricket pas­sion, it was dis­pelled for good in Mel­bourne dur­ing the group stage of the ICC World Cup in 2015. The cav­ernous stands of the MCG can be a tough sell-out when the home team isn’t in­volved, which is why the In­dia-South Africa pool match pro­duced a spec­ta­cle as stun­ning as any seen in the ven­er­a­ble G’s his­tory – a crowd of 87,000.

Even ob­servers back in In­dia noted that Eden Gar­dens would rarely look like that. The aca­demic and bi­og­ra­pher of Sachin Ten­dulkar, Bo­ria Ma­jum­dar, wrote half-jok­ingly that 85,000 in that crowd sup­ported In­dia. Aus­tralia’s tourism pro­mo­tion body later re­ported that vis­i­tor num­bers from In­dia that month had spiked by more than 50 per­cent to 23,000.

It was a sig­na­ture mo­ment for In­dian cricket fan­dom, which proved it could travel just as well

as its coun­ter­parts in Eng­land and Aus­tralia – along­side the Barmy Army and the Fa­nat­ics, the Bharat Army has a ubiq­ui­tous place wher­ever big-time cricket is played around the planet.

The Bharat Army’s ori­gins, though, speak to the dif­fer­ences in how In­dian cricket is fol­lowed. The group was founded in the UK in 1999, and con­sciously mod­elled on its English coun­ter­part. But the Bharat Army op­er­a­tion grew to the point where it con­nected with ele­ments back in In­dia, who now serve a world-wide fan base – one of the group’s founders noted to the BBC dur­ing In­dia’s tour of Eng­land that its big­gest growth area in terms of in­ter­est was North Amer­ica.

In­dia’s bur­geon­ing wealth has given greater op­por­tu­nity for its own cit­i­zens to go abroad. But it’s not just about the trav­ellers – the In­dian XI finds sup­port­ers wher­ever it goes. The huge crowds at the MCG dur­ing the World Cup were surely filled by Mel­bourne’s sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­la­tion of In­dian back­ground.

The cricket team has be­come a sym­bol for a mod­ern, global In­dia that res­onates pow­er­fully with its com­mu­ni­ties abroad. “The real con­nect back with In­dia is the In­dian cricket team,” says Bo­ria Ma­jum­dar. “Well, there are two: one is Bol­ly­wood, one is cricket.

“It’s the real con­nec­tion of the In­dian di­as­pora with home, which is why the In­dian cricket team is al­ways the story of that con­nec­tion – that we can beat the world, we have come of age. In terms of tech­nol­ogy, in terms of jobs, in terms of sport­ing prow­ess, we’re up there.

“Which­ever part of the world you’re in, if you still have a con­nect with your roots back in In­dia, that con­nect is kept alive through In­dian cricket.”

As a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of In­dian iden­tity, cricket has an­other uni­fy­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic – at once, it is able to hold to­gether the strands of old and new. As Ma­jum­dar ex­plains, this can be seen in the fig­ure of Vi­rat Kohli. He re­calls the day of Ten­dulkar’s re­tire­ment, as the In­dian leg­end sat in the dress­ing room, Kohli touched his feet with threads given to him by his fa­ther.

“That’s a very old tra­di­tion,” Ma­jum­dar says. “And from Kohli: ag­gres­sive, film star wife, the pub­lic dis­plays of emo­tion, the tat­toos. He’s the ex­em­plar of this pe­cu­liar mesh of moder­nity and tra­di­tion.”


In­dia’s num­bers left an im­pres­sion at the MCG dur­ing the 2015 World Cup.

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