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India's most devoted cricket fan?

By Saisudha Sugavanam
BBC Tamil

Sudhir Kumar Gautam
Mr Gautam says that he is inspired by Sachin Tendulkar

He is possibly India's most ardent cricket fan, having watched nearly 150 matches painted in the colours of the country's flag.

Sudhir Kumar Gautam says he has attended every international cricket match played in India since 2002.

The unemployed son of a farmer claims that cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar pays for his match tickets.

Tendulkar's office told the BBC that they had no comment to make on the cricketer's "charity" work.

Mr Gautam is a popular fixture at Indian cricket grounds and a darling of the TV cameras - these days he is regularly to be seen at Indian Premier League (IPL) games.

"I cycle to most cities to watch a match. I stay with friends or with the local painter who paints my body. For the IPL, I have been travelling ticketless on trains to see matches," he says.

Mr Gautam says he even managed to get visas which enabled him to cycle across the border to Pakistan and Bangladesh to watch cricket matches.

"In the Pakistani visa form, there were three options - by air, train and by bus. I was planning to cycle, so I wrote bicycle on the form separately. I got the visa," he says.

On reaching the border he was stopped by Indian guards.

"But after hours of questioning, I was allowed to proceed by bike."

In Pakistan, he stayed with Abdul Jalil, an iconic cricket fan who can usually be seen cheering the team on all around the world.

A diehard fan of Sachin Tendulkar, Mr Gautam's obsession with cricket began in November 2002 when he travelled 575km (357 miles) from his home in Muzzafarpur in Bihar state to Jamshedpur, another town in the state, to watch India play the West Indies.

Sudhir Kumar Gautam
Mr Gautam cycles to watch matches all over India

Unfortunately, Tendulkar did not play in the match. He had to wait a year to cycle to the western city of Mumbai (Bombay) to watch his hero turning out in a one-day match against Sri Lanka.

Mr Gautam claims to have met Sachin Tendulkar during this visit.

"I met Sachin during at a marketing event in the city. He asked me to come home, but when I reached there the security guards did not let me in," he says.

"After hours of waiting the guards let me in and I met Sachin and clicked pictures with him. He gave me a T-shirt and trousers. From that day he has been sponsoring my match tickets," Mr Gautam says.

Now Mr Gautam is in Mumbai to watch the Mumbai Indians, captained by Tendulkar, play in the finals of the IPL on Sunday.

"I want to be the face of the Indian cricket fan. And I get by with a little help from my friends," he says.



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