Barmy Army foot soldier Billy Cooper, who plays in symphony orchestras, trumpets his approval of the English team’s showing at the Eden Gardens on Thursday. Picture by Rith Basu
Our Eden Gardens has become Lord’s, Alastair Cook and Co finding in the mild Calcutta sun and the velvety green the likeness of a prolific English summer and the jolly Barmy Army bugling down the home crowd’s chant with Jerusalem.
For the first time in a Test at Eden, fans of a visiting team outnumber those of the host country in the blocks on either side of the clubhouse.
No wonder the English are back to talking about “home advantage” in Calcutta, for many years the capital of the erstwhile British Raj.
“With so many of us here, it does feel like we have got the home advantage. It would be lovely if with or without it we win this game and take a lead in the series,” said Pete Hayward, an Englishman living in Australia.
He came to Eden on Thursday sporting red-and-white headgear. Wife Stef wore red-and-white gloves.
Many parts of the stadium were decked out in the English colours. The curvature of the wall below the corporate boxes in blocks B and C, where the English heavily outnumbered the home fans, was adorned with red-and-white flags of different clubs and provinces of England.
“We are awfully fond of our flags. That one’s mine. I hang beside it a lucky bag as well,” said Nicky Cane, a veterinary surgeon from Devon, pointing to one of the smaller flags on the wall.
She watched every ball and maintained her own scorecard on the second day of the Test, as did 68-year-old Jean Ashcroft from Morecambe.
They were part of a group that had opted for the best seats outside of the corporate boxes on either side of the pavilion.
At the end of a productive day for England, benched fast bowler Stuart Broad tweeted: “Brilliant day. Special to see so many England fans make the trip to support us too. Best fans in the world you Barmy lot!”
And what happened to the famous Eden roar? If only M.S. Dhoni’s men could provide a reason for the outnumbered (and out-shouted) home crowd to rediscover their voice.
Many Eden veterans in Block B said they couldn’t have imagined being reduced to a minority on home turf. “I have never seen so many supporters of any visiting team at Eden Gardens. It is somewhat disconcerting. Eden has often been like the 12th man for India. This time, we have frittered away the advantage,” rued septuagenarian Madan Prasad Gupta, whose first Eden Test was between Nari Contractor’s India and Ted Dexter’s England in 1961.
Sujit Basu, seated next to Gupta, looked suitably grim as Cook and Compton started playing freely and the English fans trumpeted their approval.
“The trumpet does have an impact. It reminds the boys out there in the middle that we are backing them to the hilt,” said Billy Cooper, 34, from Kent, who plays in symphony orchestras back home.
Billy, who is in India for just one Test, chose Eden because it holds “a very special place” in the hearts of the English fans. “Unfortunately, England had not played a Test match here since 1993 and the Barmy Army was formed the next year. So this is the first time we are watching a Test here in such numbers,” added fellow foot soldier Deco Hewitt.
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