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December 17, 2001
- Jonathan Dyson
Observant television viewers during the second Test in Ahmedabad will have noticed the strange sight of a largely empty blue square formed at the back of the North stand, just to the left of the bowler's arm, dotted with white faces.
This surreal image was created by segregating the two sets of fans from the second day onwards, and creating an "English" section. The first day was just like in Mohali, with English and Indians mingling together, exchanging chants and gentle digs, and enjoying plenty of laughter. But for some reason (there had been little hint of trouble the previous day), when we entered the stadium on the second day, we were directed to a specific area, "protected" from the Indian fans by a wall of stewards.
This policy remains a mystery to me. Admittedly, not all the England fans appreciated interacting with the Indian fans. But for me it is all part of the experience of an overseas Test. For the rest of the match, the atmosphere around me was sterile in comparison, as we were left to sing and joke amongst ourselves.
We amused ourselves in various ways. For instance, inspired by the number of tank tops worn by local fans at the Mohali Test, a group of us decided to enter into the spirit of the Indian fashion scene, and purchased a few of our own in Delhi. These were adorned by a group of us in Ahmedabad, although after a while common sense prevailed, and the intense heat made us realise that a shirt was perhaps a more sensible option after all.
However where crowd interaction was lacking, a compelling Test certainly wasn't. In particular, the third day was probably the most complete day's Test cricket I have ever seen. The first session saw some high-quality pace bowling from Hoggard and Flintoff, the second a sparkling century from Tendulkar, and the third a magical spell of spin bowling from Giles. The match twisted and turned like Tests are supposed to. For an England fan expecting another one-sided contest, it was a delight to enjoy such an enthralling battle, and it was an unexpected pleasure to awake each morning looking forward to the day's play, rather than dreading it, as is so often the case with England.
There are certain English observers who would be surprised to hear a member of the Barmy Army write about a Test match in this way. Such commentators tend to put cricket fans into two categories - the smartly-dressed MCC members, and the drunken lunatics. Yet this is of course a great misconception, largely because it is based around the assumption that anyone who happens to enjoy cheering and singing and drinking a few beers at the cricket, doesn't appreciate the developments on the pitch.
The Ahmedabad Test was a perfect example of how wrong these assumptions are. While we enjoyed plenty of chanting and singing throughout the Test, we also never missed a ball, and were as captivated as anyone else by the cricket. We proved that it is perfectly possible to appreciate the cricket and make a racket at the same time.
And as I'm sure Indian fans will agree, watching cricket is as much about making noise as anything else. When English observers see Indian crowds, they drool about how wonderful you are, and how well you understand your cricket (all perfectly true). Yet as soon as English fans open their mouths, it is assumed that we have lost interest in the game.
Last summer, during the Headingley Test against Australia, Michael Henderson of The Daily Telegraph wrote an outrageously scathing attack on the infamously vocal Western Terrace stand at the Leeds ground, and complained that cricket is not watched "properly" in England any more. Quite what he means by properly I am not sure.
Perhaps he was one of those myopic souls in support of the MCC's decision not so long ago to ban musical instruments from Lord's - a decision based on the bizarre opinion that away fans should instead try to fit in with the English way of watching cricket (whatever that is). The West Indians could blow their whistles and bang their drums on their own patch, but, goodness me old fellow, not at the sacred Lord's.
Just as in Mohali, there were signs at the Ahmedabad Test of Indian fans deeply appreciating the spirit with which the Barmy Army behave. Both sets of fans chanted, sang and cheered with the same zest and the same pride. Perhaps it is about time that people realised we also share a deep love and understanding of the game itself.
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