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Swami Army flocks to Aus­tralian grounds

Thou­sands of fans will turn up to catch a glimpse of their he­roes in Syd­ney

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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 four-Test 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 fan club 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 1935-36.

Fi­nan­cial pow­er­house

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.

“In In­dia there are so many dif­fer­ent lan­guages, re­li­gions and cul­tures that it’s the one thing that melds ev­ery­one to­gether,” Mel­bourne-based fan An­gadh Oberoi said.

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 per cent of its rev­enues. Mean­while In­dia — the No. 1 Test side — are hop­ing for their first-ever se­ries win Down Un­der.

 ?? AFP ?? ■ In­dian fans ju­bi­lat­ing dur­ing the Twenty20 match against Aus­tralia at Syd­ney Cricket Ground on Novem­ber 25.
AFP ■ In­dian fans ju­bi­lat­ing dur­ing the Twenty20 match against Aus­tralia at Syd­ney Cricket Ground on Novem­ber 25.

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