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Meet Saravanan - the Chennai Super Kings fanatic

By: tech.ibnlive

Wisden India Staff

Last Updated: August 17, 2015, 00:06 IST

Meet Saravanan - the Chennai Super Kings fanatic

Saravanan has attained the status of Chennai Super Kings' super fan and is a hugely popular figure at the Chepauk.

The afternoon sun is at its harshest in Chennai, as it always is during May. The Chennai Super Kings players arrive at the MA Chidambaram stadium in Chepauk and get set for another match in the most testing of conditions. Right opposite the stadium, despite the scorching heat, H Saravanan, arguably their biggest fan, is busy with his own preparation: getting his body covered in yellow paint with the name 'Dhoni' and the number '7′ written in bold across his chest.

Three years ago, Saravanan was threatened by security personnel when he went to the team hotel with a hope of meeting MS Dhoni. Now, he travels with the Chennai team for all their Indian Premier League matches, interacts with the players like he's a part of the side and even leads their victory lap after their final home match.

Saravanan is the Chennai version of Sudhir Kumar Chaudhry, the Sachin Tendulkar fanatic - that rare fan who almost sacrifices their own life to follow their heroes.

Saravanan, like Chaudhry, hails from a modest background. His father is an autorickshaw driver and mother a housewife. But, unlike Sudhir, who abandoned his family and job to dedicate his life to follow Tendulkar and now the Indian team, Saravanan has a stable job as a warehouse in-charge at a construction material company in Chennai. By his own admission, Saravanan is "nowhere close to Sudhir", but stresses that Dhoni and Chennai are his "life and biggest priority".

"Sudhir is great. He has done a lot and he's definitely an inspiration," says Saravanan, even as the painter carries on with his job. "I'm nowhere near and I can't even be compared with him. But Tendulkar already has such a fan and I wanted Dhoni also to have one such fan. More importantly, I wanted to be that fan."

Initially a fan of Tendulkar, Saravanan's admiration for Dhoni started after India's victory in the 2007 World T20. It took an accident in 2010 and a World Cup victory under Dhoni in 2011 to inspire him to make the leap to being a super-fan.

"My only ambition then (2007) was to get an autograph from Dhoni," he recalls. "But I didn't know where and how to proceed with it as he had no connection with Chennai and I had no connection with cricketers. Luckily for me, in 2008, he came to Chennai through the IPL and I sensed a chance."

At first, Saravanan was just like any other fan, only his face painted while supporting Chennai. "I met with an accident and injured my leg in December 2010 and was stuck to bed for six months. It forced me to watch every single match of the 2011 World Cup and the IPL. India won the World Cup and Chennai won the IPL, so it was a double boost for me and my love for Dhoni grew rapidly. I wasn't there for 1983 World Cup, so this really moved me. I badly wanted to do something in return for Dhoni."

The injury forced him to miss the 2012 IPL as well, but his passion didn't wane. In 2013, he started painting his entire body, and instantly became a hit among spectators in Chennai. Friends and relatives mocked him, but Saravanan had already become a mini-celebrity in the stands, with people queueing up to take pictures with him.

Lack of funds and Chennai's home matches moving out of the city were major roadblocks, but Saravanan worked his way around both and gradually became an official fan of the franchise. A fellow Chennai supporter created a social media profile in his name and after repeated requests, the franchise officials agreed to take him along for a couple of matches in Ranchi during the Champions League Twenty20 2013.

"That was the first time I went away from Chennai to watch a match," he says. "Again in 2014, there were no matches in Chennai. I had become a fanatic by then and couldn't imagine the possibility of missing Chennai's matches. Kasi Viswanathan, the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association secretary, helped me a lot and the franchise took me to all matches during the India leg of the tournament. It cost me Rs 50000 in 2013 but the franchise takes care of most of my expenses now and I have seen all Chennai matches in India from then.

"I missed only one match," he admits, "because I got engaged that day. The first time I met my fiancee, I told her very clearly that this is my life and my biggest priority. Everything else comes after this."

Saravanan's routine starts five hours before a match. He rents a room opposite the stadium and gets his friend, who is no professional painter, to completely paint his body in yellow. On an average, around 15 small bottles of paint are used and Saravanan has to stand throughout the painstaking process. He does not sit even during the match to avoid the paint peeling off and consumes only water during the whole period, which comes to around 11 hours.

Finally, it all seemed to pay off, when at an event in Bangalore last year, he met his idol.

"I went fully painted as I wanted him to see me like that first time," he says, the pride in his voice evident. "Suresh Raina, Brendon McCullum and Ravindra Jadeja walked in front of me and I was looking at them, when Dhoni suddenly came from behind. I was speechless and immediately fell at his feet. He lifted me and spoke something, but I couldn't understand anything as it was all in Hindi. I have a language problem with him and the only thing I know is that he calls me 'yellow man'.

"I share a good rapport with some other players too. R Ashwin often asks me with concern why I do all this and why I spoil my body, but, luckily, I've not had any allergy or skin problems until now. I'm not scared of it."

In a tournament where squads and loyalties are fluid, Saravanan is an exception. Is all this worth it though?

"Definitely. I don't expect anything for what I do," he says. "All this is only for happiness. When fans call me Dhoni when I walk on the street with the paint on, I feel happy ... I'm Chennai's Dhoni. He's Ranchi's Dhoni."

first published:May 19, 2015, 11:01 IST
last updated:August 17, 2015, 00:06 IST