In­dian sum­mer as ‘Swami Army’ flock to Aussie cricket grounds

Gulf Times Sport - - SPORT -

Syd­ney: It’s a sum­mer’s day and the his­toric Syd­ney Cricket Ground is buzzing with chat­ter and ex­cite­ment. But in­stead of the green and gold of Aus­tralia, the huge and eu­phoric crowd fill­ing the sta­dium is a sea of blue — the colour of In­dia, prompt­ing one TV pun­dit to ask: “Are we in Mum­bai?”

They were in town for a re­cent Twenty20 in­ter­na­tional ahead of an an­tic­i­pated fourTest se­ries start­ing in Ade­laide this week, where thou­sands of pas­sion­ate fans, young and old, will turn up to catch a glimpse of their crick­et­ing he­roes.

“There’s prob­a­bly more In­dian sup­port­ers than Aus­tralian sup­port­ers here at the grounds so yeah, it does feel like a home game wher­ever we go now,” fan Kar­tik Ayyala­so­maya­jula said. “And I’m sure the play­ers feel the same way, so it’s re­ally ex­cit­ing.”

The Syd­ney-based 30-yearold and his friends cre­ated the “Swami Army” sup­porter group in 2003 when he was just a teenager, and he has watched it grow to a global fan­club with 60,000 mem­bers. “We love to travel around the coun­try, the world to fol­low the team,” he said. The car­ni­val at­mos­phere in­side and out­side the grounds is in­fec­tious. Once a drum starts up or some­one yells a chant, every­one joins in, singing and danc­ing on cue. The love they have for their su­per­star play­ers is pal­pa­ble.

When cap­tain Virat Kohli emerges or re­sponds to sup­port­ers, they go into melt­down, and some pas­sion­ate fans even burst into tears. It is ap­pre­ci­ated by the team, with opener Shikhar Dhawan call­ing the sup­port “tremen­dous” and team­mate Krunal Pandya say­ing it “def­i­nitely” feels like play­ing in In­dia. “When you have home sup­port, the way they were cheer­ing, it is an added ad­van­tage,” he said.

Cricket was brought to In­dia by the Bri­tish in the 1700s and blos­somed in the South Asian na­tion, said Aus­tralian sports his­to­rian Me­gan Pons­ford. Pons­ford, the grand-daugh­ter of renowned Aus­tralian bats­man Bill Pons­ford, spent sev­eral years re­search­ing the team’s first cricket tour to In­dia in 193536. The Aus­tralians trav­elled there on a “good­will” trip to help the In­di­ans build a team that crossed re­li­gions and cul­tures ahead of their up­com­ing Eng­land tour.

The wildly-pop­u­lar sport has since emerged as a key uni­fier for the 1.25-bil­lion strong pop­u­la­tion. The size of the crowds and their con­fi­dence in “Team In­dia” is also a re­flec­tion of the coun­try’s emer­gence as an eco­nomic and crick­et­ing pow­er­house, Pons­ford added. A cen­tury ago, In­dia was part of the Bri­tish Em­pire and the English con­trolled cricket.

To­day, In­dia is world cricket’s fi­nan­cial pow­er­house and dom­i­nates the In­ter­na­tional Cricket Coun­cil, con­tribut­ing 70% of its rev­enues. In a meet­ing with Cricket Aus­tralia some years ago, Pons­ford said it ac­knowl­edged that the ri­valry with In­dia was more lu­cra­tive than with tra­di­tional foes like Eng­land.

“It’s im­por­tant for the sur­vival of Aus­tralian cricket that they keep on play­ing In­dia,” she added. Like any ma­jor ri­valry, there’s been testy times. An in­fa­mous scan­dal in 2008, where An­drew Sy­monds ac­cused In­dian spin­ner Harb­ha­jan Singh of call­ing him a mon­key, saw re­la­tions be­tween the foes hit rock-bot­tom.

There’s been re­peated bus­tups, most re­cently last year in an ugly spat be­tween then­skip­per Steve Smith and Kohli. And the up­com­ing block­buster se­ries could sig­nal a new chap­ter in their re­la­tions.

Smith and his deputy David Warner are serv­ing bans over a ball-tam­per­ing scan­dal, and the Aus­tralians have since in­tro­duced a new code of con­duct so they’re less ag­gres­sive.

Mean­while In­dia — the num­ber one Test side — are hop­ing for their first-ever se­ries win Down Un­der. If they do suc­ceed, it will be a big re­ward for the diehard fans, whose reg­u­lar chants of “we will win, we will win, In­dia will win” in Hindi at the games will be­come a re­al­ity.


In­dian sup­port­ers cel­e­brate dur­ing their team’s match against Aus­tralia in the T20 in­ter­na­tional in Syd­ney.

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