Nagpur is the home base of the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, the right-wing fundamentalist group that spawned the Bharatiya Janata Party, the leading opposition group in the Indian Parliament. Not surprisingly, nationalistic fervour is high in the stadium, especially in the East Stand, where the roving eye read the words F-A-N-A-T-I-C-S, written in bold green across a pale yellow banner and spread across the railings on the top tier of the stands.
A group of about 30 people dressed in the Australian Baggy Green colours was sitting among the locals, waving Australian flags and, surprisingly, tossing a green-vest-clad rubber crocodile instead of the famous kangaroo to cheer on their team. Surrounding them were the teeming locals waving the Indian tri-colour.
The situation in the ring beneath was not in India's favour, and one could sense the crowd's desperation. The strains of "Dizzy, Dizzy, Dizzy, you make me Dizzy, my head is spinning ..." came out loud and clear. One of the Fanatics gestured to an Indian fan, who was running across the stands with flag in hand, to sit down. Annoyed by the gesture, some of the Indians began a slanging match, and it required intervention from the police to calm proceedings.
One of the Fanatics was wearing an Indian-style turban, bright yellow in colour, embellished with false stones, and the rudraksha (a bead necklace) around his neck. The word "Pistol" was written on his vest. With the kangaroo painted on his cheeks and a saffron-coloured "tilak", Pistol and rest of the gang appeared to be dressed for an Indian wedding.
Pistol's actual name, it turns out, is Peter, but among the group he is known as Pistol Pete after you-know-who. The Fanatics is a troupe of Australian fans, similar to many others which enable fans from all over the place to gather on a trip to tour with their national team around the globe. This group made their first tour in 1997 during the US Open tennis, which the Aussie Pat Rafter eventually went on to win - he later called the group to thank them. The aim was to form an organised, passionate and patriotic support group that would follow Australian sport at home and around the world.
The Fanatics began by supporting Australian tennis players, but then moved into other popular sports such as rugby, cricket and soccer. "Basically we have more fun than those people out there," says Pistol, pointing to the stand on the left where the "Waving-the-flags" group was seated. "They are more passionate about the game and follow it thoroughly, whereas we are more interested in having fun and travelling." The Fanatics have come for this Indian tour in two batches, with each one getting to watch two Tests. Before coming to Nagpur, this bunch had gone for a jaunt to Goa, where they revelled in the sun and sands of Kalungute Beach.
Dan, another Fanatic, adds that the group is enjoying the local food and the hospitality of the Indians. "We have some cases where guys were down with stomach upsets, but it has been fun," he says with a smile, before going on to add "though we have taken our Imodiums along with us as a precaution." To gauge the severity of the upset tummies, you only need to watch a banner which reads "Mum, send Imodium".
Outside the stadium, Nagpur moves at a leisurely pace. Though it is the winter capital of Maharashtra, the pace and the stress of city life is absent. Life, like the old two-seater gas-spewing auto-rickshaw, moves at a sedate pace. Darkness falls early and dawn breaks at even greater speed. The journalist in me yearns for a break, but the man outside just goes on with his life in the same slow, comfortable fashion.
Nagraj Gollapudi is sub-editor of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine.