x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Cricket: Thankless task of the die-hard India supporters

Despite the controversy dogging the game in the country, India's fans continue to back their players, writes Dileep Premachandran.

India supporters cheer for their team during the Champions Trophy cricket match between India and South Africa.
India supporters cheer for their team during the Champions Trophy cricket match between India and South Africa.

To get to Sophia Gardens - or the Cardiff Wales Stadium, as it is now called - from the train station, fans need to take a picturesque walk through the castle and along the River Taff.

By 9am yesterday, throngs of Indian fans were on their way, draped in tricolour flags and wearing everything from jester caps to blue Mohawks.

There was even a group of blue smurfs.

The previous day, Delhi Police had questioned Raj Kundra, one of the co-owners of the Indian Premier League's Rajasthan Royals, for more than 10 hours over his alleged involvement in a betting ring.

In such a week, when Bangladesh's Mohammad Ashraful had also admitted to spot-fixing in the country's domestic Twenty20 tournament, you would think that fans would be fairly cynical about the state of the game.

For those in Cardiff, though, nothing seemed to have changed.

The Indian national anthem was raucously applauded, and from ball one, there was little doubt as to which team was the crowd's pick.

Every Indian shot or edge was hailed, and once Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma switched from circumspection to attack, the atmosphere was as frenzied as you would find in most Indian grounds.

Blue truly was the colour.

After the spot-fixing scandal broke, Suresh Menon, editor of the Wisden India Almanack, had written: "Wouldn't it have been wonderful if the fans had refused to turn up at Eden Gardens for the [IPL] final, forcing it to be played before an empty stadium? Alone among the stakeholders in the sport, they have the power to force the cricket board to clean up its act, first by keeping away from matches and then by boycotting the products of the sponsors involved in the IPL."

None of this happened. For some, it was evidence that Indian fans didn't care enough, that they were no better than zombies, consuming any cricket "entertainment" in front of them.

The truth is that he or she cares too much. Many in the Cardiff crowd had come from thousands of miles away, spending thousands of pounds.

Like the indulgent parent who will not give up on the prodigal child, these fans keep coming back, no matter how badly Indian cricket treats them.

One nodded his head violently when asked if he still believed.

It wasn't just his faith talking. It was the faith of his father, and his before him.

It was acknowledgement of the fact that cricket is one of very few sports where you get the opportunity to wave the flag proudly.

The parasites eating away at the game, whether they are crooked administrators, greedy sponsors or corrupt players, are perhaps aware of this.

Even if they aren't, they take advantage of it.

No matter what the story, the fans tend to give the players the benefit of the doubt.

It's far easier, after all, to turn on a journalist than to contemplate that your heroes may have feet of clay.

Whether it is the possible conflict-of-interest situation involving MS Dhoni and his management company, or the suggestion that the highest echelons of IPL team management may be involved in the fixing mess, the fan looks past, to the field where his men in blue play.

That near-unconditional love is Indian cricket's greatest strength, the foundation of the riches it now enjoys.

It's also its greatest weakness. The crooked and evil elements use the attendance as vindication for their behaviour. They hide behind it.

Instead of transparency that comes from a fear that fans might stay away, you get an administration that does as it pleases.

It's a depressing state of affairs, most of all for those who give so much of themselves while expecting nothing in return.