March 29, 2007 / 7:29 AM / 12 years ago

It's not cricket! India superstar lookalikes face anger

AHMEDABAD, India (Reuters Life!) - They were showered with love and flowers when India was playing well, but now they are abused and taunted on the streets after the national cricket team crashed out of the World Cup in the Caribbean.

India's Sachin Tendulkar watches their World Cup cricket match against Sri Lanka in Port of Spain March 23, 2007. Some men who bear more than a passing resemblance to Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Mahendra Singh Dhoni say angry fans now hurl insults and sometimes even stones at them. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Lookalikes of Indian cricketing superstars in Gujarat in western India are diving for cover after the team’s shock defeat to lowly Bangladesh and subsequent loss to Sri Lanka forced the 1983 champions to slink home in disgrace.

Some men who bear more than a passing resemblance to Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Mahendra Singh Dhoni say angry fans now hurl insults and sometimes even stones at them.

“I can’t walk on the streets, people jeer and threaten me,” said Tendulkar lookalike Suresh Rathod in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s main city.

Until just a few days ago, 35-year-old Rathod would don the sky blue Indian team uniform and inaugurate restaurants and beauty parlors in Ahmedabad.

“People paid me and invited me to attend programs and parties, today they are all venting their anger,” he said.

Cricket is taken very seriously in India, where top players are huge celebrities with astronomical earnings to match.

Hundreds of fans across India burned effigies, defaced posters and held mock funeral processions for the national team, a day after last week’s ignominious World Cup exit.

Yogendra Shah, who looks a lot like batsman Virender Sehwag, said his neighbors on the outskirts of Ahmedabad threw stones at him after India’s defeat, but later apologized to him and his family.

“The extreme reaction of people is understandable. The Indian team betrayed the trust of the millions who worship them and pray for them,” said Shah, who works in a private firm.

Some people who resemble top cricketers and Bollywood actors find work in small-budget Hindi films and television serials and enjoy celebrity status themselves in Indian towns and villages.

After the Caribbean debacle, disappointed fans gathered outside the home of Mukesh Soni, a dead ringer for glamorous wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and burned posters of the player.

“I got lots of attention when Dhoni played well, girls came to me for my autograph. Now they don’t,” Soni said.

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