Thu, Jan 12, 2012 - Page 19 News List

FEATURE: Swami Army’s antics are adding some spice to India’s Australian campaign


Members of the “Swami Army” attend the second Test match between Australia and India at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Australia on Friday.

Photo: AFP

Among the flag-waving, drum-beating lovers of Indian cricket at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), Anurag Verma is trying to remain positive despite his team’s seemingly hopeless position against Australia.

“We know the match is gone, but we’re just enjoying ourselves,” said Verma, who came straight from the airport from a flight from London to join fellow members of the “Swami Army” on the fourth day of the second Test.

He hoped to see Indian superstar Sachin Tendulkar score his 100th international century — instead he saw the “Little Master” caught for 80 and India lose by more than an innings.

In the same vein as England’s Barmy Army of supporters, the Swami Army are a growing presence in Australia, where they are intent on bringing Bollywood spice to Test matches.

“The aim of the group is not just to support the Indian team, but we want to create an atmosphere that people come back and watch live cricket,” 30-year-old organizer Amit Grover said. “You see empty stands during Test matches and that’s not a good thing. So it’s not just about getting Indian fans out, but all fans out.”

Grover, born in Australia to Indian parents, said in every other sport his allegiance is to those wearing the green and gold, but cricket is different.

“And that’s where this tour is very difficult for us, because actually most of us are Indian Australians,” he said of the Swami Army.

A swami is a Hindu religious teacher, but the name was chosen simply as a play on Barmy Army.

“It’s sort of mixed loyalties ... because we support Australia all the time when it comes to all the other sports — rugby union, rugby league, Socceroos, at the Olympics, we’re supporting Australia. It’s just that we’ve always been fans of Indian cricket and the way India plays its cricket,” Grover said.

Even a Swami Army tribute to Tendulkar has a distinctly Aussie flavor as it is sung to the tune of the bush ballad Waltzing Matilda, with supporters chanting: “Sachin Tendulkar, Sachin Tendulkar, Sachin Tendulkar, he is our god.”

The Swami Army has been around for more than a decade, but since becoming a formal entity five months ago in the lead-up to the four-Test series against Michael Clarke’s men, it has registered 3,500 members, Grover said.

The undisputed hero of Indian cricket is Tendulkar, who has long haunted Australian teams with his high-scoring innings, is a focus for this tour as he chases the elusive 100th international 100.

The admiration both nations hold for Tendulkar may have helped smooth the edges of India’s last trip to Australia in 2008, when the Sydney Test was marred by allegations of racial insults that threatened to end the tour.

Then, the Australians alleged that India’s Harbhajan Singh called dreadlocked player Andrew Symonds a “monkey,” a charge the Indians denied.

It was a very different mood at the SCG on Friday, where a banner read “SCG — Sachin’s Cricket Ground” and fans of both sides stood and applauded Tendulkar, along with Clarke and the Australians.

The Swami Army are working with Cricket Australia to ensure tickets for members and have established “regiments” in Britain, the US, India, Dubai and Singapore, Grover said.

“This is going to be bigger than just the Australian tour. One thing we’ve realized is that there is no official Indian supporter group out there and that’s something that we want to do,” he said.

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