Ganging up to make Test cricket popular

Meet the North Stand Gang from Mumbai - the cricket fan group comprising 50 members usually travels for India's home games and Ranji Trophy.

The North Stand Gang members with former India cricketer V.V.S. Laxman in Pune on Thursday.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT


Ashutosh Shirke, Anish D’Souza and Faraz Baig are fondly called ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’. And of course, for a reason. Every time, there is a cricketing fixture in Mumbai or Pune, the trio can be spotted at the stands. Be it Tests, T20Is, ODIs or even a Ranji Trophy fixture — you are likely to meet the group in their customised white tees that chronicle the history of Mumbai’s iconic Wankhede Stadium.

They have been doing this for a decade. More people joined over the years and now, the 50-member group has a name — The North Stand Gang.

Shirke remembers the time when he, along with D’Souza and Baig, would watch games from the North Stand of the Wankhede Stadium. "We have been watching cricket together for ages now. In 2009, we finally decided to create a group and keep in touch for the games. So, when we thought of coming up with a name, we did not have to think much. It all started because of North Stand, and that’s the name we chose for the group," Shirke says, while watching the second Test between India and South Africa at the MCA International Stadium on Friday.

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While D’Souza is presently in the US now, he keeps track of each and every cricketing encounter. The gang communicate on their WhatsApp group. It also has a strong social media presence with a fan following on Twitter and Facebook. "We have nearly 3.5 thousand followers on Twitter and we put out regular tweets about matches, events and other proceedings," Shirke says.

The members of the North Stand Gang at the MCA International Stadium in Pune on Friday.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT


"Whenever there is a match in Mumbai or Pune, we are there to watch the game and after seeing us, many fans come in and join us. That’s a great thing."

Before every season, a couple of members keep an eye on the itinerary and then depending on the venues, the tickets are booked and the travel plans are chalked out. "Our objective is to make Test cricket popular. So, the moment the online ticket window opens, we ensure that we collect our tickets,” Shirke adds.

Then comes the tour planning. “We have been to Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Pune for the Tests and some of the ODIs. We usually travel together,” he says. For the second Test, so far nine members have travelled to Pune, but Shirke hopes that the number will go up to 20 in the next couple of days. “It being a weekend, we are expecting more members to drive down from Mumbai. It is fun watching the game together,” he says.

Though it has similarities with England's Barmy Army, the North Stand Gang wants to carve out its own identity. “In 2016, when England played a Test match at the Wankhede Stadium, we met the members of the Barmy Army and gifted them our tees. They were floored and even invited us for team dinners,” Shirke says, adding that they are still connected to the BA members through social media.

On Thursday, the members of the gang also met former India cricketer VVS Laxman and gifted him a tee. “What I was impressed was about the passion they had for the game and how knowledgeable they are about cricket,” Laxman tells Sportstar.

"They were talking about Ranji Trophy matches, international matches right from 1990s. The biggest boon for Indian cricket is its fans and these guys are passionate about the game," Laxman, who is here for commentary, says, adding, "It is tough for the fans to come on weekdays, as they have office, school or colleges to attend. I think even following the game in their office and colleges would be exciting. The group I met yesterday, travelled all the way from Mumbai. They not only have affection for the players, they also have some affinity towards the players."

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