LONDON: The Bharat Army, the India supporters’ group, has big plans for the Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019: nearly 8,000 fans of the Indian team, from 22 countries, will gather in England and Wales this summer as the BA celebrates its 20-year anniversary.
The BA began when four fans from different parts of the United Kingdom, who had been bumping into each other throughout the ICC Cricket World Cup 1999 in England, decided it would be fun to gather as many Indian fans together to watch the big clash between India and Pakistan.
Since then, it has grown multi-fold. “The Bharat Army has now grown from being a UK-based supporters’ group to having a global presence with regional heads,” said Rakesh Patel, one of the founders. “[They] help grow our supporters’ group in the UK, India, UAE, Australia, New Zealand and the USA.”
For Patel, being part of the group is the next best thing to playing. He has been “travelling the world for almost 30 years” supporting India at different stadiums, ever since his first match at Trent Bridge in 1990, when he watched wide-eyed as Sachin Tendulkar scored a 26-ball 31 to help India to a five-wicket win.
“I have hundreds of ticket stubs and match-day programmes of all the matches I’ve been to around the world,” he says. “Including that first match I saw live in 1990 at Trent Bridge, and Sachin’s last match representing India – I followed his whole career like many Indians, so had to be in Mumbai to see his last moment.”
Bharat Army Travel was set up in 2015 because of the “increasing demand of Indian cricket fans wanting to travel with us to major tournaments and series around the world”. It is an official ICC Travel and Tours partner, and Patel says they “expect circa 5000-6000 Bharat Army members at each of India’s matches” at CWC19. It’s “our largest presence to date”.
To commemorate the anniversary, they have also organised an event – #BharatKeSaath – in Manchester, and about 5000 Indian fans are expected to join in on a night of fun, family and a lot of cricket.
Patel rates the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003 as one of the group's standout moments, “where the Bharat Army was really born”. And of course, the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, watching MS Dhoni hit the six to win India the trophy – "Nothing can compare to the emotion I felt that moment standing in the North Stand at the Wankhede!”
More recently, it was India’s victory in Australia. There was that moment that went viral, when the BA received the victorious Indian team after they had secured their first ever Test series win in Australia.
They played the dhol, and the team danced with them. “It was actually the BCCI who decided they wanted to thank the BA for our support in 2018 across South Africa, England and Australia,” says Patel. “They arranged for us to welcome back the team to the hotel in Sydney after the fifth day.
“As a cricket fan who has travelled the world following the team through good times and bad, this was surreal. I believe what defines our supporters’ group is how we are valued by the team we support – so for the team to arrange this for us, and thank us for our support, meant a lot, not just to me, personally, [but also] to the members in that room that day and to all Indian cricket fans who have followed the team over the years.”
With any luck, Patel hopes similar scenes will follow after the final at Lord’s on 14 July.