India’s cheerleader makes it to Sri Lanka

Devoted fan Chaudhary defies the odds to follow his heroes to T20 World Cup

Colombo: Sudhir Kumar Chaudhary, also known as Gautam, is India’s cheerleader and he has arrived in time to cheer his team in their crucial matches at the Twenty20 World Cup.

Like Pakistan’s well-known followers Chaudhry Abdul Jalil and Mohammad Zaman and Sri Lanka’s Percy Abeysekera, he keeps the fans enthralled, shouting slogans supporting his team.

Chaudhary even follows the Indian team during their practice sessions and waves the Indian flag relentlessly. He follows the team to almost all venues and, in India, he travels by bicycle — he once even pedalled all the way to Bangladesh to watch his heroes play.

Many cricket lovers back unemployed Chaudhary’s enthusiasm, donating money for his expenses.

When I met him at the P. Sara cricket ground close to where the Indian team was practicing and suggested he pose for a picture, a shy Chaudhary obliged but his head was bowed.

When I asked him to lift his face, he said: “My face is not important. The Indian flag which I have painted on my head is more important than me.”

Chaudhary always carries an Indian flag on a pole that is much taller than him.

Though out of work, he never asks for funding from anyone. “Knowing my love for the game, people often fund my trips. Thanks to Sachin Tendulkar, he likes me a lot. He has given instructions to all cricket venues to give me a ticket wherever I go.

In the matches that Tendulkar plays, he paints the word “Sachin” on his body.

Once in Kanpur a police officer, assuming that Chaudhary was an unruly fan, beat him and bundled him up. On hearing about this, Tendulkar got him released and the policeman had to apologise.

There have also been many instances when fans have abused him following a poor show by India, but he says he endures it all because of his love for the Indian team.

“I don’t need anything from anybody except tickets for matches. And I do not need highly-priced tickets because I enjoy sitting with the crowd as they make the maximum noise and enjoy the game,” said Chaudhary, who used to work for a milk company in Muzaffarpur until he was bitten by the cricket bug.

“I don’t do anything [else]. Cricket is my life and the Indian team is my passion.”

Every summer, Chaudhary travels to Tendulkar’s house in Mumbai and presents him with a box of litchis from his home town. He is so popular among the Indian players that they wave at him and some even have a chat with him after practice. “I never go close to the nets — I always stand outside the boundary,” he said.