From waking up at 5 AM to losing their jobs: All hail the unsung heroes of cricket

The shriek of the alarm pierces through the silence of the night. For most people, one of the most disturbing sounds in the world is the sound of the alarm at 5 am. But for some, it is the sound that they have been waiting for. They wake up as excited as a child wakes up on a school holiday. The day is beaming with possibility. Without losing much time they switch on their television set and travel approximately 7000 kilometers away.

For the next few hours, physically they maybe in India but mentally and emotionally they are with those 11 men who are representing "them" and fighting a battle against the Australians on the cricket field.

These avid cricket fans are the unsung heroes of India’s favourite sport.

A lot has been written about the heroics of the players, the shrewd thinking of the team management and the dedication of the support staff. Most people also recognise how critical the broadcast teams as well as the sponsors are to the survival of the sport. But unfortunately, no one stops for a minute to praise the fans, to applaud them for their commitment, to recognise their involvement.

 From waking up at 5 AM to losing their jobs: All hail the unsung heroes of cricket

The unsung heroes of the sport. Getty Images

After all, it is the fans that are critical to the survival of any professional sport. Take them away and you take away the soul of the sport. You take away the very purpose of its existence. And it is high time that we openly promote and celebrate fans.

Sports spectator-ship is one of the largest forms of leisure behavior in the world today and each one of us probably knows someone who is a passionate fan. However, there is a big difference in being a casual observer of the game and an avid supporter who wakes up at 5 am on a winter morning to watch their team play.

In a 1998 study, sociologists Abercrombie and Longhurst described fans as "people who become particularly attached to certain programs or stars within the context of a relatively heavy media use." By this definition — it is only the men and women who are waking up at 5 am to watch the current India vs Australia Test series who have the right to call themselves real fans.

It is this breed of cricket lovers that has always intrigued me. I have always wondered what motivates them. While the players may disappoint them with their lack of consistency and performance, these fans will never give the players a reason to complain about their consistent viewing habits. If their team wants them, they shall be there even if it costs them their sleep, their family, their exam or their job.

It is very important to distinguish these fans from the jingoistic rabid ones that treat every Indian cricket team loss as a national catastrophe. These fans are passionate but they are definitely not the fanatical effigy burning kinds. A good game of cricket makes them happy.

One such fan is James. He works in Singapore as a technician in Murata Electronics. In a recent conversation he told me, "Cricket drives me crazy even when India is not playing. I still remember the day when Brian Lara made the world record 400* in Test cricket. I was actually working in night shift. (But) that day Lara was approaching the landmark, so I preferred to skip my work and watch his epic world record. The next day I went to work but I lost my job due to attendance issues. I was still happy for what I've witnessed."

And for most of these fans this passion gets inculcated right from their childhood days.

Vipul Yadav, a brand management professional from Mumbai and an avid sports lover, told me: "The first time I woke up early during a cricket match was during the 1992 World Cup. I was in my 2nd standard. I woke up at 3:30 am to watch the New Zealand vs Pakistan semi final. That was the match when Inzamam ul-Haq exploded on the world stage and NZ suffered a heartbreak after a splendid run."

And even after 20 years that passion exists. He still wakes up every morning to watch the India vs Australia match live. I ask him where this motivation to sacrifice sleep for a game comes from; his reply is "you don't need motivation when venues like MCG and SCG host Test matches."

But does this motivation wear off or reduce with age? As per Rajesh Tiwary, a software developer in Bangalore (who is more popularly known by his Twitter handle @cricBC) it does not. Even at 32, his child like passion for the game exists. He tells me how as a kid he would get up early or sleep late to watch cricket matches even before he understood time zones.

There hasn’t been a single match that India has played in the last 20 years that he hasn’t followed. This India vs Australia series is no exception. Doesn’t matter if it starts at 5 am. Doesn’t matter if sleep needs to be sacrificed.

For most folks our "sleeping-waking" patterns get shaped largely because of our professional or family life but for these hundreds of avid cricket fans, the "sleeping-waking" patterns get shaped by the cricket schedule released by the ICC.

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Updated Date: Jan 09, 2015 07:44:28 IST