Barmy Army stay away, England and James Anderson doing just fine without your interminable din - Chris Waters

England's James Anderson (Picture: Alastair Grant/PA Wire)England's James Anderson (Picture: Alastair Grant/PA Wire)
England's James Anderson (Picture: Alastair Grant/PA Wire)
THEY were bemoaning during a lull in play on the television coverage that the absence of the Barmy Army, the interminable “hey, look-at-us” mob who follow England at home and abroad, was somehow detracting from the “colour” of the occasion.

On the contrary.

It has been one of the few upsides of the pandemic that these wearisome characters are nowhere to be seen, or more specifically nowhere to be heard, with cricket grounds mercifully free of their cheering and chanting.

For too long, it has been the easy fallback of the lazy television director to cut to these creatures at every opportunity.

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England's Mark Wood. (Picture: PA)England's Mark Wood. (Picture: PA)
England's Mark Wood. (Picture: PA)

And, sure enough, they joyfully respond to the aim of a camera, eagerly waving at themselves on the big screen like a thousand David Brents blissfully unaware of their own absurdity.

The players don’t help, invariably praising at every opportunity a group which, first and foremost, actively wants to be seen and heard, as opposed to one whose motives are primarily concerned with supporting their team and watching the cricket.

That they take themselves extremely seriously – criticise them at your peril – was confirmed during the Brisbane Ashes Test of 2010, when members of the media received the following preposterous email:

“Barmy Army members will be available for lunch and post-play discussion/interviews throughout the final day at the Gabba,” it read.

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Angelo Mathews of Sri Lanka  (Picture: Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)Angelo Mathews of Sri Lanka  (Picture: Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)
Angelo Mathews of Sri Lanka (Picture: Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)

“Available will be Paul Burnham, founder of the Barmy Army and Bill the Trumpet, plus selected Barmy Army members.

“Please find us during lunch and after play at The Chalk Bar, Stanley Street, Woolloongabba.”

Er, no thanks.

Sport is clearly better with fans, but not all fans make sport better. The Barmy Army, and their remarkable rise to mainstream acceptance, reflects the seismic shift that cricket has experienced in modern times, with the game actively encouraging the peripheral razzmatazz and off-field antics that would never have been countenanced years ago.

The Barmy Army following England (Picture: PA)The Barmy Army following England (Picture: PA)
The Barmy Army following England (Picture: PA)

Quite frankly, who needs the doltish din of these people – enough to make a five-year-old cringe with embarrassment?

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Granted, it was slow going on the opening day of the second Test in Galle, at least by modern standards as Sri Lanka scored 229-4 from 87 overs after winning the toss, but the cricket lacked nothing for the absence of a cacophony of witless singing and artless self-promotion.

Why, it was enough to admire James Anderson – 38 years young – toiling away in the enervating heat on his way to figures of 

It was sufficient to appreciate the equally indefatigable Mark Wood on a flat pitch that had less signs of life than Mars, the fast bowler trapping Dinesh Chandimal with one that ducked back.

The Barmy Army have not been missed argues Chris Waters (Picture: PA)The Barmy Army have not been missed argues Chris Waters (Picture: PA)
The Barmy Army have not been missed argues Chris Waters (Picture: PA)

And if you couldn’t enjoy the batting of Angelo Mathews (107 not out), who played a proper Test innings, or that of Chandimal (52), with whom he added 117, or that of Lahiru Thirimanne (43), then Test cricket might not be the game for you. The soundtrack of simpletons was utterly superfluous.

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Anderson starred, as he so often does, taking two wickets in five balls in the fifth over.

Both were gifted to some extent, though: Kusal Perera swung wildly outside off stump and was caught high by Joe Root at first slip, then Oshada Fernando chopped on to a ball that was back of a length and bounced appreciably, Sri Lanka slipping to 7-2.

Anderson had Thirimanne caught behind just after lunch, but there was no repeat of the first Test horror show when the hosts crumbled for 135 in their first innings, and thence to defeat.

With England’s spinners unable to gain penetration so early in the match, nor even the control that Anderson exerted, Sri Lanka got useful runs on the board on a pitch that will only deteriorate as the game progresses.

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Afterwards, it was interesting to hear Anderson say that he was “pretty nervous” going into the match. For a man who now has 603 Test wickets, it betokened a refreshing attitude and a relentless desire to improve.

“I was pretty nervous this morning – more so than usual,” he said. “It’s a weird situation to be in. I haven’t played for a while, and I was coming in for Broady (Stuart Broad), who had done really well in the first game. But I’m happy with the work I’ve put in behind the scenes, and I felt in good rhythm right from ball one.”

And to think that Anderson did it all without the Barmy Army ringing in his ears, without its debased renditions of Jerusalem echoing around the ground.

If only cricket could permanently consign these attention-seeking characters to Blake’s dark satanic mills.

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