Hamilton (New Zealand) – Three heart attacks haven’t stopped Pakistan cricket fan Mohammad Bashir from following his team around the world.
And if they are not in action, the Chicago-based Bashir, 62, is more than happy to watch arch-rivals India.
The proof came in the usually sedate surroundings of Hamilton’s Seddon Park, transformed into a riot of colour and noise by India’s Swami Army of supporters for the reigning champions World Cup Pool B match against Ireland on Tuesday.
Bashir, who has become a friend of India ‘super fan’ Sudhir Kumar Chaudhary, is a huge admirer of India batting great Sachin Tendulkar.
“I love you Dhoni,” shouted Bashir. “Dhoni is my heart and I hope his team reached the final and play against Pakistan.”
Bashir said he had no problems supporting India when not watching a Pakistan match.
“My wife Rafia is from Hyderabad Deccan, India. I love Dhoni. He is my hero.
“I have joined Indian supporters for this match and hope I support both the teams (India and Pakistan) when they play the final.”
Chaudhary, wearing a number ten shirt in honour of Tendulkar, said he was excited to be in New Zealand.
“It’s a wonderful country blessed with nature and I am enjoying the tour with India looking so solid in their title defence,” said Chaudhary, who has reportedly cycled over 15,000 miles to watch India play at various cities at home, Bangladesh and Lahore in Pakistan.
Wearing their team’s blue kit and holding the tri-colour national flag, the Swami Army were out in force.
The green, orange and white flags flew in large parts of the stadium, while fans were also displaying “won’t give it back” placards, referring to the World Cup trophy which India won on home soil four years ago.
Some people brought traditional Dhol drums, banging them to the screams of “Jeetay ga bhai jeetay ga, India jeetay ga (India will win) from the stands in a festive atmosphere.
“I have brought a group of around 550 fans from various parts of India and its a two-in-one pack for me as I earn as well as watch the match on tour,” said Manas Kolay, who had travelled from the holiday resort of Goa.
Arun Goyal lives in Hamilton and any cricket match involving India brings back memories of his native country.
“I come to watch this match to remember India,” said Goyal, born and brought up in Mumbai. It’s an atmosphere which reminds me of the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.
“I miss my country but for the last two days I am hosting some friends from Mumbai and cricket has given me some relief.”
A handful of Irish fans were also at Seddon Park, cheering on the non-Test side, who still have a shot at the quarter-finals but were not expected to beat India.
But don’t tell that to Ireland supporter Anthea Graham.
“I am following Ireland from Nelson to Hamilton,” she said. “My team is the best in the world and they will beat India to go into the quarter-finals.
“From here me and my husband will go to Adelaide and remind Pakistan how good we are as a team, having beaten them before,” Graham added, referring to Ireland’s shock win over Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean.