ICC Cricket World Cup: Meet The Bharat Army that travels the world to cheer Team India

Rakesh Patel, founder of The Bharat Army

Rakesh Patel, founder of The Bharat Army
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Amish You spends all his annual leaves following the Indian cricket team around the world. “This is probably why I am still single,” he laughs. The 32-year-old from London is a member of The Bharat Army — a global group of cricket lovers and fans that travels to every country where Team India plays and cheers them on. He, along with the rest of the group, is in India for the duration of the ongoing 2023 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup.

“We call ourselves the 12th man of the Indian team,” says Rakesh Patel, who started The Bharat Army in the UK during the 1999 World Cup, with the idea that every cricket team should have a supporters group. “We are among the most passionate fans in the world. Cricket is a religion in our country and we needed to do something more organised as a group,” he says. The group started with four members and over the last 23 years has grown to include 1,60,000 registered members and 1.7 million followers globally.

Virat Kohli and K.L.Rahul at M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai

Virat Kohli and K.L.Rahul at M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai
| Photo Credit:

On Saturday night, ahead of India’s first match on Sunday at the MA Chidambaram stadium, The Bharat Army was in Chennai galvanising support with a fan event at Sin & Tonic. LBDs and party casuals were outnumbered by Team India jerseys as 250-plus supporters poured in from across the city, country and continents: the US, Singapore, Hong Kong, the UK, Australia, Europe… They are all travelling together as a group. “For the 2019 World Cup, 11,000 fans from 23 countries travelled with us around England and Wales, where the matches were happening,” says Rakesh.

“With this group, you’ll never feel alone. There’s atmosphere and all that but there’s bonding and great relationships too,” says Amish. The motley group sees a confluence of cultures and comprises people from various backgrounds and professions including chartered accountants, business men and women, civil servants, lawyers; 18 to 85-year-olds… all tied together by the love for cricket.

There are 6,000 people accompanying The Bharat Army this time. Like, Varsha Patel, a civil servant from London, who is travelling with the gang for the first time. She has taken three moths off work to watch the matches in India and then travel to Kutch where she has her roots. “It’s a great atmosphere with them. This army is a close-knit group and it’s always good fun,” says Varsha, who is looking forward to watching Shubman Gill play.

“We bring the noise, we bring the vibe, the atmosphere. We make a noise and the players feel our presence,” says Rakesh. They sing, chant (they have different ones for different players), dance, play music. “We play musical instruments like the drum, saxophone, trumpet, dhol. We are known to be the loudest, proudest fan club,” grins Rakesh, adding, “This year, the BCCI has given us approval to bring musical instruments into the stadium. This is the first time a fan club has been allowed to do so in India.”

Interestingly, Rakesh and the core team of the Bharat Army are British nationals. But when it comes to cricket, it is India that is in their hearts. This also means occasional clashes with The Barmy Army — the English equivalent of The Bharat Army.

While there are brickbats, there are bouquets too. For example, in 2018, when India beat Australia, in Australia for the first time in a Test match, the BCCI showed their gratitude to The Bharat Army by inviting them to party with the Indian cricketers. For many from the group, it was an awe-inspiring moment as they got to spend time with their heroes.

For Rakesh, his goosebumps moment came when he met his icon Rahul Dravid in 2002 and even got his jersey. He also recalls an incident from 2021. “We were in Manchester and a match got cancelled because of Covid. I was at the Old Trafford stadium and felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Virat Kohli. He said he was sorry that the match was cancelled and thanked us for the support,” says Rakesh adding that that gesture made The Bharat Army feel cherished because “ultimately as a fan club you want the players to appreciate your support; that’s the aim of the club.”

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