No other sports team is as well supported away from home as the Indian cricket side. No matter where they go, Indian fans seem to at least match those of the host nation, if not outnumber them, as they did at Malahide Cricket Club in Dublin this week.
India has an estimated population of 1.4 billion, and a significant global diaspora that travels for work and education. According to the Indian embassy in Dublin, there are 45,000 people of Indian origin living in Ireland.
India long ago took a colonial British sport and ascended to the top of its global ranks, and the 11 members of the national team that played here on Tuesday are heroes to a diaspora 8,000km from home.
While still a fringe sport in Ireland, cricket unites a large and disparate immigrant community here.
Simi Singh was born in India and is a cricketer on the Irish team — the only Indian-born player to represent this country.
“I can remember being back in India, six, seven years old when I didn’t know anything about cricket,” he says. “I watched movies all the time, but whenever there was a Test match, there would be nothing else shown on the TV for five days. I didn’t know what was going on, but I watched.”
Singh shares an anecdote from the last time India toured these shores in 2018, one that reflects the global deification of their superstars.
“We were staying in Portmarnock, both teams, and whenever we went back to the hotel there would be at least three, four hundred people waiting outside just to get a glimpse of the Indian guys.
“I was trying to get into the hotel and the security guy asked me, ‘where are you going?’ I told him that I was one of the players staying at the hotel and he said that all the Indian fans were using that excuse to try and get in. I had to show him my hotel room key and call our manager just to make sure I could get in.
“I told him I was one of the Irish players but he didn’t trust me.
“The players are heroes in people’s eyes... Indian people are more crazy about the cricketers themselves than the actual game.”
Sandipan Banerjee is a journalist who follows the Indian cricket team around the world. He interacts with the diaspora in every country where the sport is played and has noticed one constant ingredient in this fandom: identity.
“There are people who never been to India but have Indian roots,” he says. “Cricket makes them feel closer to home. They can relate cricket with their home country. For those who don’t stay in India, it’s a special moment for them to meet these players and watch them play in front of their eyes.
“Before Covid, some of the fans used to invite players for dinner to their houses. It’s a taste of home.”
Tuesday’s match in Malahide — in which Ireland fell just short of a win against India — was like a festival, a coming together of cultures where men on guitars played Galway Girl for punters queuing for masala dosa.
“There are a few occasions that are like festivals for Indian people in Ireland,” says Saji, a nurse living in Blanchardstown, having moved from Kerala 4½ years ago. “But cricket would be the biggest festival. It’s a big celebration, it’s spiritual,” he says.
“It’s very cultural,” says Mary, who moved to Dún Laoghaire from Mumbai six years ago. “There are people who are cricket fanatics and there are other people who are here for the cultural purposes — that’s me.
“We do like other sports but not as much as cricket. People start playing in their back garden. They don’t need stuff to play with them, they find a log and a ball and start playing.”
A sense of reconnection with India is why Sravan, who left the south of India seven years ago, travelled from Celbridge, Co Kildare to Malahide with his 2½-month-old son to take pictures of him near the team.
It’s why a 22-year-old DCU student with a thick Kilkenny drawl can barely watch the game, shot with nerves for fear that his hero, India’s wicketkeeper Ishan Kishan, would get out before entertaining the crowd by blasting the ball over the boundary.
A generation of Irish-born Indian cricket fans coming from such an ingrained cricket culture bodes well for the future of the sport on this island.
“This is only the first generation of the Asian kids coming through,” confirms Singh. “Every club has an Asian youth section.
“They’re quite young at the moment so in the next five, 10 years you’ll start seeing more Asians playing for Ireland.”