Win bet, watch Champions League
Colin Bowman and Bryan Cox were watching the Premiership game between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur a few months ago. Bowman, an insurance broker, put ₤10 on Jermaine Defoe scoring the game's first goal and United winning 3-1. The bet came in and Bowman won ₤1700. Instantly the pair, high on bubbly, decided to buy tickets to India to follow their club side Sussex in the Champions League Twenty20 the next day. Did Bowman wake up the next day to regret his impulsive decision?
"Not at all. It is a month's salary so I'd rather spend it here than on household stuff," Bowman said, laughing. Bowman said he spent the money following Sussex because it was his home club and he was here to show support - a sentiment echoed by every one of the 30-strong Sussex fan club that reached India earlier this week. About a dozen of them form part of the Grand Cru Cricket tour group and the rest have come to follow their team.
Bowman and Cox admit they are not as dedicated as the others who move around the UK to follow Sussex's fortunes, but they love visiting big sporting events - they went to the Beijing Olympics last year and plan to visit South Africa for the FIFA World Cup next year.
It is uncommon to see cricket fans travelling around the world following their clubs, something football fanatics have been doing for decades. But since the Champions League is the first proper international club championship in the sport, people are optimistic that the concept will encourage fans from various countries to cross borders and encourage their players.
"It is not normal for a cricket club's fans to come overseas," Clive Roberts, who runs Grand Cru, told Cricinfo. "But you have to bear in mind this is the first time that English club sides have been given an opportunity to play in other countries. This shows since people are now prepared to travel abroad to follow their club and one would hope these people would go back home and tell their friends what a good time they had and that would spread the message."
But aren't the Grand Cru charges - 1350 pounds per person for the five-star hospitality for a week's stay in Delhi - steep even for well-off fans? Jenny 'Pip' Kirtley, mother of former England fast bowler James, agreed she had to do some calculating before boarding her first flight to India. "I thought maybe it is a bit expensive but the dates were just right," Kirtley said while swaying to the Bollywood music in the background. "And I'd never been to India so it was too good an opportunity to miss."
For Kirtley, an event like the Champions League carried greater importance than just the pleasure of watching her son play. "The event is very special and the difference is these are teams (Sussex, Somerset, New South Wales and the other domestic sides) as opposed to the IPL sides who are a group of people. They play together all season so there is huge family feeling. James has played with Sussex for 15 years...the allegiance is important."
The Sussex management ensured the fans got good seating in the ground and also invited them to a "supporters' night" that was attended by the players, as well as former India captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, the Indian who's played the most county games (88). "The players were quite impressed and delighted that people have taken the pains to come to India to support to them," Roberts said.
Ed Joyce, the stand-in Sussex captain, said he could heard the loud chants of the home fans from the stands. "I could even hear them singing the verses from Sussex by the sea [the Sussex anthem]", Joyce said.
Kirtley is flying back home in three days but, given the costs, is not optimistic about returning later in the tournament. "I don't think they [fans] will be doing it very often."
There are some, though, like Paul Elford, a civil servant, who said he may return if Sussex reach the knockout stages. An avid fan of the county from the days of Pataudi, Tony Greig and Imran Khan, Elford still rues the fact that he missed a Championship game last season. "It is a small cub and for it to take part in such a big event, which is the world club championships, it is a proud moment for us."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo