Cricket tribes are best of enemies

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The Independent Online
THE SEA of green and white Pakistani flags outside the gates of The Oval cricket ground in south London parted briefly yesterday to reveal two members of an exotic species: supporters of the Zimbabwean national team.

Linda and Ralegh Greenwood flew in from Harare this week to join one of the smallest contingents of fans following the 12-nation World Cup. Newlyweds, they set a date that enabled them to spend their honeymoon watching their sporting heroes in action.

"We got married on 29 May, the day that Zimbabwe beat South Africa," said Mr Greenwood. "There was no television in the hotel where we had our wedding reception, so everyone was glued to their mobile phones. When the result came through, the whole room went mad. It certainly made it a day to remember."

England's early exit from the competition has merely served to accentuate its multi-cultural, international flavour, taking the game out of the genteel county setting and giving it an air of carnival. For fans from some of the former colonies, it has afforded a rare opportunity to watch world-class cricket.

The World Cup, which moves to the semi-final stage next week, has attracted unprecedented numbers of overseas supporters, who have injected noise and colour into a traditionally sedate sport.

Battalions of cricket fans have travelled to Britain, emulating the Barmy Army, the motley crew that follows the England team around the globe. Cricket-loving visitors include the Bangla Tigers, who hail from Bangladesh, and a West Indian contingent called the Trini Posse.

The small county grounds hosting some early matches could have been filled several times over. Thousands of Indian fans were left disappointed after failing to see their team play South Africa at Hove, which has a capacity of 6,000.

Yesterday at The Oval, British Pakistanis were joined by relatives and former compatriots who had timed their visits to coincide with the World Cup. "In South America, football is the big passion; in the sub-continent, it's cricket," said Naeem Rao, 26, from Lahore.

Outside the ground, traders selling replica team shirts in Pakistani colours were hoarse from shouting over the noise of the supporters' horns and tin whistles. Fans wandered around draped in the national flag; some had painted their faces green and white.

Supporters from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are helping the tournament to live up to its billing as a carnival of world cricket. They are the most fanatical fans, and the most exuberant - dancing and banging drums in the stands, setting off firecrackers and invading the pitch at the end of matches.

In common with most followers of other teams, they are also good-humoured. Even the clash between India and Pakistan at Old Trafford was largely peaceful, despite the military conflict between the two countries over Kashmir. During Bangladesh's match against Scotland in Edinburgh, two Bangladeshi fans in tiger costumes led a procession of Scots in kilts and ginger wigs in a conga around the ground.

The Scots, meanwhile, took an inflatable whale called Warnie along to their game against Australia. It was presumed to be a reference to the waistline of Shane Warne, the Australian leg spinner .

Some of the cricketing tourists are in Britain on specialist package holidays, including 3,000 from India, 600 from Sri Lanka, 1,300 from South Africa and 500 from Australia. Many more made independent travel arrangements.

Spectators from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have swollen the large expatriate communities here. Australian fans in particular are noisily patriotic. The Antipodeans and South Africans specialise in drinking during matches and waving banners.

The Kenyan and Zimbabwean teams have the smallest travelling armies. Cricket is a minority sport in these two countries; Zimbabwe's laudable progress to the Super Six stage barely rated a mention in the media at home.

Their fans may be scarce, but they are hardcore. The 50 or so Zimbabweans always gather outside the pavilion to cheer their heroes on the balcony after matches. For the Greenwoods, in Britain on honeymoon, cricket is more than just a hobby. Mrs Greenwood said: "We've been avid supporters of our team for years. To watch Zimbabwe play in London is the ultimate. It doesn't get better than this."

The Final Six

New Zealand

Supporters have been seen waving inflatable sheep above their heads in ironic appreciation of their country's reputation as lamb exporter.

India

Supporters have flocked to see Sachin Tendulkar, the batsman regarded by many as the greatest talent in the tournament.

Australia

Bar workers on their day off join their "Sheilas" and consume unfeasibly large quantities of Castlemaine XXXX or Foster's lager.

Pakistan

Intense rivalry with India compounded by events in Kashmir led to one fan being led out of the ground after setting fire to an Indian flag.

South Africa

Not surprisingly supporters take offence at rivals' chant which compares their national flag to a pair of Y-fronts.

Zimbabwe

Supporters dressed in their team's bright-red tops cheered progress to the second stage of World Cup after defeat by England.

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