Champions Trophy final exemplifies the uniqueness of Indian cricket fans around the world

Alastair Cook’s comment that it was “hardly a home game” for England in the ICC Champions Trophy final against India on Sunday can be gauged by the above picture. How many English faces can you spot? © Getty Images

The patience of passionate Indian expats to vociferously egg their team on for a title triumph despite a frustrating seven-hour delay showed why the nation’s cricketing fans are unique in the world of cricket, writes Abhijit Banare.

At the post-match presentation of the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 final on Sunday, it was interesting to hear Alastair Cook say it was rarely a home game for the team. Coming from the captain of the host nation, it underlined the growing presence of the expat Indian population, not just in England but around all cricket grounds around the world. The sight of Indian spectators outnumbering the English fans by the ratio of almost 100:1 on Sunday was a sight to behold and explains why India seems to play at ‘home’ even away from home.

Yet, it would be hard to accept that only Indians purchased tickets for the final. There would have been plenty of them. After all why would the English fans have spared the potential opportunity to watch their team overturn a 38-year old drought of winning an ICC tournament? When the weather turned sour, many of them weren’t interested in the game anymore, assuming it to be a dampener. At the end of the day it was just a game of cricket for the English fan and it was futile to watch a game waiting for almost the duration in which the game would have actually ended.

For the Indians, however, this was more than just a game. It was an opportunity to forget the pains of daily life and rejuvenate with every boundary by Shikhar Dhawan or a wicket by Ravindra Jadeja. Indians love to come together and enjoy the spills and thrills of a game supporting their team as boisterously as possible.

This attitudinal difference between the Indian and English fan was on full display by the time the game started with a sea of Indian flags waving all across the ground.

For someone who was listening to the proceedings on radio, the outcome of a delivery could be easily gauged by the loud reaction of the spectators, before the commentator added clarity to the imagination. And we are talking about this vociferous noise and excitement after seven hours of frustrating rain delay! That, for you, is the definition of an Indian cricket fan.

The Indian fan’s patience for cricket is best explained in an excerpt from Corner of a Foreign Field by Ramchandra Guha; it represents a crisp image of what happened last Sunday. The author says, “Five days or 30 hours: an unconscionably long time for an industrial and industrious American, but a bare wink of eye to the Indian. Cricket fits in easily with the rhythms of what is still — in its essence — an agrarian culture, accustomed to thinking in or calendric rather than clock time. Indians have no difficulty aimlessly filling up the hours.”

Moreover, deep down for many Indians, cricket still is a means of settling accounts. If one followed the social media on Sunday, it was just hard to miss the flood of jokes linking the final to the movie Lagaan and British colonialism.

Apart from settling patriotic equation, it also reflects a sense of identity. While it may defy logic, victory in a sport compensates for almost every sorrow of the individual’s personal front. And on a positive aspect, the success of the team also elevates a sense of pride in an alien land. That’s exactly what happened when India won the World Cup in 1983. The situation, more or less, remains the same even today, except the fact that this pride is toned down — thanks to a much more egalitarian atmosphere among countries. From a local perspective it can also be defined as failing the ‘Tebbit test’ where politician Norman Tebbit termed migrants who support their native countries rather than the England cricket team as not part of the United Kingdom.

Having spoken about the craze for cricket, it’s equally interesting to rewind ourselves back to the third week of May when the entire spot-fixing scandal broke, there were numerous reports on the eroded faith of a cricket-loving nation. The extent to which the game appeared as a puppet in the hands of power-hungry administrators and few greedy cricketers, the popularity of the sport seemed to have taken a severe blow.

Though cricketers couldn’t restrain themselves from being lured into unwanted practices, the loyalty of the fans, one can confidently say is still intact. The response to the Champions Trophy success also sends out a signal that the Indian fan will always believe in the ‘forgive and forget’ policy when it comes to cricket.

For every English fan watching the gentleman’s game with a sense of discipline, there is an Indian who defies the logic of craziness. As Guha reminisces, “it is easier to document and celebrate the Indian love for cricket than to analyse and explain it.”

(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new everyday. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)