Sun, May 12, 2019 - Page 11 News List

Cheerleaders challenge India’s strictly cricket tradition

AFP, NEW DELHI

Mumbai Indians cheerleaders perform during an Indian Premier League Twenty20 match between the Rajasthan Royals and Mumbai Indians in Jaipur on April 20.

Photo: AFP

They smile and jump in short skirts and tight tops in front of frenzied crowds — but this is cricket, not a Bollywood set or a Mumbai nightclub.

The cheerleaders who follow the eight Indian Premier League (IPL) teams have become a key part of the success of the world’s wealthiest cricket tournament that is to stage its final today.

Traditionally, when a batsman hits a six into the crowd, he lifts his bat to acknowledge the applause, but when Delhi Capitals star batsman Rishabh Pant bashes a ball into the stand, he unleashes an explosion of music, smoke and flying pom-poms.

The dancers — who come from Britain, Brazil, Canada, Russia, South Africa and other nations — keep grinning and kicking, even when temperatures hit 40°C.

When the IPL dancers started in 2008, some politicians wanted them banned because their skimpy outfits were considered un-Indian — and Royal Challengers Bangalore now have more soberly dressed, mixed male-female cheerleaders.

There are few complaints now.

The troupes follow the teams on a grueling criss-cross schedule across India for eight weeks each year. The players get luxury flights and hotels, while the women take the budget version.

“There are a lot of rules — don’t look at them, don’t smile at them,” English cheerleader Kelly Smith said of the dancers’ relations with the players.

“We help them win the games in a way — we should be able to meet and interact with them,” added the 24-year-old, one of a dozen women in the Delhi Capitals cheerleading team.

While a metal fence separates the women from fans, they still get trolled online, and the sexist jibes from the crowd can be daunting.

Charlie Chaeppela said that someone created a fake social media account to taunt her.

“They used a picture of me while I was cheerleading, they threatened me and asked me why I was in India,” she said.

More than 100 rapes per day are reported in India, according to the most recent official government statistics in 2016.

However, Chaeppela said that she still took the job because it was an “incredible opportunity.”

“My mom got me a book on India and on the Delhi page, it said it was the worst for women,” Chaeppela said. “But on second thought, if you look at it, it could happen anywhere in the world.”

From a distance, the women have to make do with giving nicknames such as “Muscle Russell” for West Indies star batsman Andre Russell, and they adore “our No. 4” — Delhi captain Shreyas Iyer.

However, knowing when to fire up the crowd has been a tough lesson for some.

“Someone in my podium who was here for the IPL last year knew what to do. Literally we had no idea about the game until our very first match here,” said Bobi Dorrington from England. “We’d sit there waiting for her to say if it’s a four or a six. We learned as we watched.”

The Chennai Super Kings are to play the Mumbai Indians today in the IPL final, after half centuries by Faf du Plessis and Shane Watson on Friday led Chennai to a convincing six-wicket victory over the Delhi Capitals.

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