Banking on ‘12th man’


On Monday night, Olypub was full of the disgruntled expressions of middle-aged regulars denied their favourite tables. Four of the biggest tables had been lined up end-to-end. On top were endless rows of empty beer bottles. All around were members of the Barmy Army, vocal cords happily lubricated, filling the Park Street watering hole with their chants.

The Barmy Army call themselves England cricket's unofficial 12th man. At the Eden Gardens, they will be many times as raucous as they had been at Olypub, with their team well placed to push for a first series win in India in 27 years. But their voices might be drowned out by a crowd that has often fulfilled the 12th man function for the Indian team.

Two and a half years ago, Harbhajan Singh took seven wickets to win India a Test match against South Africa with just nine balls remaining on Day 5. Afterwards, he saluted the crowd, which been at full volume right through the Test match, especially in the last session, when Hashim Amla and Morne Morkel threatened to save the game for the visitors with a last-wicket partnership that lasted more than 20 overs. "I have not heard this kind of noise anywhere in India," he said. "In Test matches, we don't even get crowds but Eden is probably the best ground as you get the crowds for the whole five days. It does not matter whether India is batting or bowling, so it's fantastic."

A fortress Since 2001

Then, as is the case now, India went into the Test match having lost the previous Test. They began poorly, with Graeme Smith and debutant Alviro Petersen scoring centuries in a 209-run second wicket partnership. But at the fall of Petersen's wicket, the crowd began to make their presence felt. South Africa lost their last nine wickets for 78 runs.

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