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A Different Kind of White-Wash

Michael Coutts talks loyalties

The Swami Army have made their presence felt in Australia. Photo: Paul Rovere
The Swami Army have made their presence felt in Australia. Photo: Paul Rovere

For a bunch of Indians, my family is pretty Australian. We barbeque chickens more than we butter them and catch taxis more than we drive them. Yet despite being born in Australia, no one evokes my patriotic pride more than the Indian cricket team. When India toured Australia this past summer, amongst the vocal Australian supporters sat a remarkably large contingent of Indian fans, known as the ‘Swami Army’.

The group was originally formed during India’s tour of Australia in 2003/04. Unlike the Barmy Army, the famous English namesake of the Swami Army which is almost entirely composed of English residents who traverse the globe to watch their country play, the Swami Army is made up ethnically Indian Australians who reside here.

Predictably, this has led to the Swami Army being branded ‘un-Australian’ – barracking against your own country is high treason. Debates on the meaning of ‘being Australian’ aside, the real question is why otherwise proud Australians are so reticent to support their current homeland in favour of their cultural one. Part of the answer lies in passion. Cricket holds an almost religious fervour amongst Indians; it is difficult not to be swept up in that level of enthusiasm.

More significant, however, is that the Australian cricket team neither looks nor feels representative of Australian society. Though a multicultural nation, Australia’s cricket side is filled to the brim with white Australians. Even though youth, suburban and grade cricketing ranks alike have been heavily infiltrated by ethnically subcontinental Australians, only Usman Khawaja has managed to crack the Australian set up.

Whilst this may change with time, it is currently a poor effort nonetheless compared to the other multicultural cricketing nations. The England side, for example, contains English players who are culturally South African, Indian, Pakistani, Irish and Scottish. The South African team, alternatively, ensures racial parity through quotas for black players; even the most divided nations have made more significant strides towards a cricket team that all citizens can be proud of.

The issue is as much one of social integration as it is of sporting patriotism. The tendency to ask Australians with cultural backgrounds that are not British “where they are from” augurs belief that some are ‘more’ or ‘less’ Australian than others. The promotion of Khawaja to the Australian team is an important step towards bridging the gap between Australia’s diverse cricket communities. One day, there may be no need for the Swami Army. Until then, however, at least one section of the MCG will feel like home for touring Indians.