For Indians, the game of cricket has been nothing short of a religion of its own. With great players like MS Dhoni, Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar and others, Indian cricket has evidently transformed from an outdoor game to a household sensation; with fans from across all social lines coming together to cheer for team India. Taking the enthusiasm of Indian cricket fans to another level, are several fan groups like ‘Bharat Army’ which is also touted as India’s largest globally travelling group of fans.
The idea of ‘Bharat Army’ took birth when a 20 something Rakesh Patel, who would later go on to co-found Bharat Army, arrived at Old Trafford Cricket Stadium in England to watch the match between India and Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup. What Pankaj noticed that the number of Indian fans at the stadium was dismal as there were hardly 200 to 300 Indian fans in the stadium, and this was how the idea of ‘Bharat Army’ was born. Over the past 20 years of its inception, the group has grown manifolds in popularity.
For tickets with the group, luck comes into play as the ticketing process works using a ballot system. While speaking to The Indian Express, Patel said, “There is a ballot system in the ticketing process, and any fan can apply, although luck plays a part. But for official fan groups, who are the ICC’s partners, the benefit is a ‘priority link’. It is a URL that we send to our members. We get better chances in the ballot.” He further added, “We have to sell the ticket with a travel element — it could be flights from fan-countries to England, or hotel accommodation, or inter-city travel.” Patel also plans to take the Bharat Army to the Olympics and Commonwealth Games.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Rakesh Patel pointed out that the group rose to popularity after India won the 2011 World Cup. After the tournament, the group took a different turn and transformed from an amateur collective to a professional enterprise. Today Bahrat Army has a total of 20 employees based across three countries.
“Every time India plays, the Bharat Army has between 5,000 and 6,000 fans in the stadium, which is sometimes around a third of the total crowd,” said Patel.
Bharat Army is already an official partner of 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia and for the 2019 World Cup, Bharat Army is designated as the official travelling and tours partner and have sold over 11,000 tickets in the league stages only. The group is also known for motivating players with special chants and slogans. On June 16, after Vijay Shankar entered the World Cup 2019 team, Bharat Army put out a special chorus for the new entrant “Jay Jay Vijay Shankar, you pull away from the bouncer, he is a batting all-rounder. He comes from Tamil Nadu, he has made his World Cup breakthrough.”