Mohamed Nilam stood in fitted denims and shirt, behind the grill overlooking Indian cricket team’s net session at the Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi on Friday. Unless you are a journalist or an official, observing the star players from close quarters is a distant dream for most ardent followers and fans. Nilam is different. He has been a familiar face for Team India. He would bump into them during their tours of Sri Lanka, click pictures with them and erupt with joy when players decide to give him a goody.
He reserved a different chant every time an Indian cricketer would leave the training premises on Friday. It was the “Hey Chinaman” for Kuldeep Yadav, “Hi Sri” for fielding coach R Sridhar and “jinx” for Ajinkya Rahane. No player, including skipper Kohli, left without greeting Nilam and Gayan Senanayaka, the two fans who have come all the way from Sri Lanka, and have a lot of admiration for the Indian cricketers.
Nilam’s Facebook wall is flooded with pictures of Indian cricketers and his ease with the players is primarily because of him following them closely when they tour the island. Even at neutral competitions, like Champions Trophy and Asia Cup, they would exchange greetings with players who are generally at some distance from the fans.
“We cheer for Sri Lanka but after Sri Lanka it has been India, will always be India. I have good relationship with most Indian cricketers like Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli since their younger days, I love them a lot,” Nilam told indianexpress.com. The bond is not restricted to the cricket team, it is well shared with India’s famous supporter Sudhir Kumar Chaudhary.
The Sri Lankan duo’s stay arrangements are taken care by Sudhir who feels it’s his responsibility to do the same. Whenever Sudhir travels to Sri Lanka, Nilam and Senanayaka ensure whether everything is in order, right from his stay to travel. Together, as Sudhir informed, they have covered plenty of India-Sri Lanka contests including the iconic 2011 World Cup final at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai.
“Yes we were together at Wankhede. The only difference was that because of Sachin (Tendulkar) Sir, I managed to get inside the Indian dressing room while my friends were in the stands. When we go to Sri Lanka, they take care of us so it’s my duty to do the same when they are in India. We are staying very far away from the stadium at the moment but are planning to take a hotel nearby when the match begins on Saturday,” said Sudhir.
While the trio, which was later joined MS Dhoni’s fan Ram Babu, nodded in unison on most of the stories they shared, there was a natural disagreement when they were asked to pick who is going to win the match.
“India ek baar batting karke vishal score khada kare, aur match jeet jaaye,” came Sudhir’s reply before Nilam interjected him and said, “I think tomorrow if Sri Lanka play good cricket, they will win.” Sudhir was not willing to believe it as he aggressively waved the Tricolour, chanted “bharat mata ki jai” and blew the conch.