The Swami Army invades Adelaide
The Swami Army has cause to cheer
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There are about 70 of them in a crowd of 17,000, but take my word for it, they have been raising a storm. They are more in-the-face than the in-the-face Aussie; they hoot, they whistle; they taunt, they tease; they sing and they dance and they wear their tri-colour on their chests. They are the Swami Army, a title that was conferred on them by a local newspaper in Brisbane, and the Indian team has made sure that they are having the time of their life.
Life for the Indian cricket fan overseas isn't easy. They are used to satisfying themselves with the odd moment of glory: a century by Tendulkar, a few scintillating strokes, a wicket here and there ... but not much more. Their passion for Indian cricket draws them to the cricket ground, and at every ground, there is the familiar story of surrender and humiliation. But as Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman stroke the ball around with the skill and class that the Indian batting line-up has always promised but rarely delivered, all that pain is now distant memory.
"This is unbelievable," says Vamsi, an engineer working for IBM in Melbourne, "these guys are making us proud. They have made sure that we can walk with our heads held high." They are doing more than that. They are thumping drums, their chests and even sledging Steve Waugh from the fence.
Vamsi, who has lived in Australia for 11 years now, has vivid memories of 1999. He went for all the Tests, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, and then for the one-dayers. Losing hurt. But even more, what hurt was the team's defeatist attitude. "They were so lethargic on the field," he remembers. "I was sitting right here, and there was Venketesh Prasad fielding at long-on. He wouldn't even bother to bend down. This team is so different. Guys like Sehwag, Zaheer ... there are so aggressive. Look at the way they celebrate the fall of a wicket, look at the walk, they make you feel good."
Many of Vamsi's companions are younger. Most of them are still in the university, looking for a degree and a life in Australia. This is their first taste of Test cricket in Australia. Used to cattle-like treatment at Indian cricket grounds, Australia is a revelation. The Adelaide Oval, with its open informality and outstanding batting conditions, offers them not only great cricket, but a wonderful atmosphere to enjoy themselves. Drums will be banned at Melbourne, where stricter crowd-control measures were put in place after a few bottle-throwing incidents during an India-Pakistan match in the triangular series in 1999, so they are making the best of it while it lasts.
Ever since Channel Nine discontinued its banner competition, placards, though not completely out of vogue, have been less noticeable at Australian cricket grounds. But the Swami Army are carrying their own. One reads: How low can umpires go? It depicts a naked umpire kneeling before an Australian player, performing a not-so-flattering act. The reference of course is to the lbw decisions handed out to Tendulkar on the 1999 tour. Steve Bucknor's lbw, even though it came from a neutral umpire, has only reinforced that sense of burning injustice. "But the great thing on this tour," one of them chips in, "is that they give Sachin out and there are others who are standing up. Last time, the moment Sachin went, it was all over."
The noise is getting louder and slogans shriller. A group of Australian school boys sitting in adjacent seats are doing their best to keep up the morale with their "Come on Aussie, come on" and "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oye, oye", but they are hopelessly outnumbered. Things get slightly volatile when a couple of security men approach the Indian contingent. It appears that they have been blocking the view of those sitting on the hill behind.
But the situation gets decidedly uglier when a few members of the Army are walking past a noisy bunch of Australian sitting below the main scorecard. They find empty bottles pelted at them and the odd abuse. "What's the point," one of them hollers, "they don't understand English." I have a chewed bone thrown at me with the words, "here, take it." And then I hear the word "Coolie" muttered. It's the second time I have heard that word in two days, having been addressed so the previous night at Hindley Street. It is nauseating. But I am not seeing a pattern in it yet. Australia has been wonderful to me so far. People have been friendly, warm and helpful. I am not about to let two jerks colour my perceptions about a country.
Sambit Bal, the editor of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine and Wisden Cricinfo in India, will be following the Indian team throughout this Test series.