In the Army now
Sport has always drawn crowds, even in the most hostile conditions. Tuesday morning in Canberra was no different with dark grey clouds looming ominously. Rains lashed the Manuka Oval from between seven and half past ten, raising doubts if any game was possible in the first place.
That didn't dampen the hundreds who started gathering outside the oval in little flocks at the scheduled start time (10 am). For them, despite the weather, the game was still on. And like in every crowd, where there is a bunch that stands out with its characteristic fervour, there was one here too making heads turn. Shaking their bodies and tapping their feet, they created a buzz with their livewire intensity.
The Appu Army, the latest addition to the existing bunch that includes the Barmy Army (England), Wave the Flag (Australia) and Bharat Army (India), were here to follow their side closely. The pouring rain didn't matter to them. They had come down from Sydney in droves. Their red coloured T-shirts made them stand out and were joined by their friends in hay-coloured sombrero-hats.
They kept playing the distinctive bayla tune that lets you know the Sri Lankans are around. The Appu Army was in full swing and lent a carnival-like atmosphere as they marched up and down the main drag behind the Don Bradman stand inside the ground. The horns and the whistles kept blowing, so did the conch shells and the hand bells. So festive was the atmosphere that it was difficult for the Indians not to soak it in.
The Appu Army, under a month old, is the concept of Lal Jacobs, a Sydney-based web designer. Jacobs' friends had been coaxing him to starting something like the Barmy Army for a while and he decided to do something about it during Sri Lanka's tour game against the Australian Prime Minister's XI here last month.
"I just wanted to start something that would help the Sri Lankans enjoy the game more," Jacobs says with a smile, adding that he doesn't intend to emulate the Barmy Army's style of traveling with the team around the world. For Jacobs, originally from Sri Lanka, it's about getting people together whenever there is an opportunity.
Interestingly there were a few Tamils wearing red T-shirts with a map of Sri Lanka that had "Voice of Tamils. Where's humanity" painted across the north and east, which has borne the bulk of the violence over the past few decades. Jacobs agrees sport is one of the best mediums to get the message of peace across. "Cricket is one game that gets both the Tamils and the Sinhalese together which is such a good thing". It was definitely the case at the Manuka Oval, where ethnic Tamils were seen mingling freely with the Sinhalese. In the aftermath of the Harbhajan Singh-Andrew Symonds affair, where cricket was pushed to the background and the crowds turned partisan, this was a happy turn of events.
"It doesn't matter if it's a truncated game. We are here to enjoy Sehwag, Tendulkar and Jayasuriya blast, that's what matters," a beaming Jacobs said as he emptied his pint of beer. Meanwhile the drum beats carried on as did the rain.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo