They Have Got Game


India's probably the only place where their vociferous support gets drowned in the din of the stadium, but the Barmy Army, the English cricket team's travelling band of loyal supporters, is not complaining yet.

At the second Test match of the ongoing series between England and India in Mumbai, a sullen Harbhajan Singh manning the boundary in between struggling to break England's batting spine was reacting — sourly, what else — to heckling from Indian fans, two of whom were packed off to a police station closest to Wankhede stadium. Diagonally opposite to the stand where this trouble brewed, was the Barmy Army that had struck a chord with Matt Prior, the gloveman who stands the furthest from watching crowds, and yet is known to share a close personal association with the England cricket team's delirious bunch of supporters. Prior makes it a point to wave his hands at Trevor Hewitt, a Barmy Army member, every time the team takes the field.

Such fan-cricketer equations are not just impossible, but unthinkable in the Indian context, where cricketers move in mobile garrisons. "It's like how it is with football in England. Our footballers there are just as unreachable as your cricketers in India," says Mark Wolden, a Barmy Army member based in Riyadh, who had come for the India tour along with four friends.

Formed with just three members during the 1994-95 Ashes series, to counter the years of Aussie aggression their fans were subjected to, the Barmy Army has turned into a full-fledged organisation engaged in cricket tours, merchandising and charity. Omnipresent wherever the national team tours, the Barmy Army, arguably the most loyal travelling band of supporters of any cricket team in the world, is revelling in the sudden rise of English cricket during the ongoing India tour. All that is missing is the beer. "That is why we love Mohali (in Punjab), that's the only ground here that allows us to drink beer while watching the match," says Andy Thompson, the Barmy Army tour manager, with a chuckle.

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