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Shoaib Ali Bukhari can shout all day, in the heat, and not have a care in the world about where the next meal will come from or whether there will be a bed to sleep on. Sounds like just another crazy cricket fan that we have all encountered in life - or have been ourselves. But even by Bangladesh standards, he stands out for his willingness to go that extra mile - literally.
He is in Sri Lanka now, supporting his favourite team, and he has just watched nine days of his favourite kind of cricket - Tests. On the day we met, Shoaib was screaming his lungs out as the Bangladesh batsmen fought to stay alive in the second Test in Colombo. As the batsmen walked back for the tea break, he cried out the name of every player that walked into the dressing room. From one of the higher stands, someone tried to compete with his vocal strength. That man laughed and gave up after three tries of "Shabash Sri Lanka".
At the end of the day's play, Shoaib headed to a nearby garage in Khettarama, where he spent the night courtesy a mechanic he met at the R Premadasa Stadium. This is how it is for the man who is called Tiger by the Bangladesh players. He hasn't come to Sri Lanka with a lot of money in his pocket, and didn't seem too perturbed by it. "Yesterday some of the urchins here took away my food. I think it is okay, at least it's food," he says. There was a packet nearby, which he confirmed as food. "I will eat properly today, because I think I can sleep at the garage today too."
I first saw Shoaib in the grandstand at the Mirpur stadium after Bangladesh had defeated India. He was screaming, but so were the other 25,000 around him. What stood out of course was the body paint. Not many Dhaka households will allow their boy to paint himself as a Tiger - a fan of the Bangladesh team - but there was Shoaib. Tamim Iqbal once tried to bring him on to the ground, but security in Mirpur is usually uptight when people other than them want to have fun.
As I speak to him, I can see sweat staining the yellow paint on his body. "Yes, I paint my body every morning and wash it off after the game," he says without looking at me. "This is what makes me different from everyone else."
After hearing his track record as a fan, you would think the body paint isn't the only thing that sets him apart. Sri Lanka is not his first trip abroad, though this trip has been less adventurous than the last one. "I went to India during the Champions Trophy in 2006. I had enough money to just watch one game, so I went to see the one against Zimbabwe." How he entered India isn't fit to mention, suffice to say it involved ducking, barbed wire and paddy fields.
"Once I got near a highway, I took buses and made my way into Jaipur. I saw the match, shouted as much as I could. But after the game I realised I didn't have the money to go back home. So I tried to find work. After a few days of sleeping in a park, I got to work in a restaurant, but the pay wasn't too great. I really missed my mother, and my home."
"After almost a month, I saw a packet of bidi [a local cigarette] which had writing in Bangla, my mothertongue. I cried for five minutes when I saw that, because I hadn't seen anything written in Bangla or heard anyone speak my language."
Upon his heroic return home, Shoaib was chastised at home. "People think I am crazy. They tell me to stick to being a mechanic, but I sneak out. I try not to miss a Bangladesh match, though sometimes getting a ticket can be so hard."
Presently, the batsmen walked back after the tea break, and he saw all the players coming out of the dressing room, and shouted each of their names and wished them luck. "A mobile phone company helped me come here. They paid for my air ticket. After arriving here, everyone has contributed. I got money from the players, from [Habibul] Bashar bhai, Athar bhai and the team manager too," he said.
He is an intrepid soul, so he has collected everyone's phone number and will only call when his budget of 20,000 Sri Lankan rupees will be spent. He doesn't want this adventurous life to end, but he has to make ends meet, at least to tour other countries. His father is an Imam at a mosque in Dhaka, so he is not exactly living the life that his parents had envisioned. "They don't let me go home with the paint in my body. At least they tolerate me these days," he said.
That evening, he was invited to a dinner party by one of the BCB members on tour. This was a different Shoaib, without the body paint, sitting quietly in the corner, smiling at everyone. As some of the journalists shake his hand and begin speaking to him, he says, "Don't worry brother, I know my way to Khettarama. I am learning some Sinhala too.
"And I will be in Hambantota too, in fact I will do the full tour. The only problem is, how do I get there?"
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondentFeeds: Mohammad Isam
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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