England’s recent Test tour to South Africa once again proved significant for a number of reasons as the visitors wrapped a 3-1 series win against a vulnerable Proteas outfit under new management, writes ANDRE HUISAMEN.
Speaking exclusively to SA Cricket magazine, famous Barmy Army media manager Toby Marriott reflects on what was a memorable and important victory for all English fans at one of the group’s favourite destinations.
England came into the series on the back of a series defeat in New Zealand a month earlier, while a large part of the squad was struck with illness leading up to the first Test at Supersport Park on Boxing Day.
Players such as Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Ollie Pope, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood and Ben Stokes all fell ill to a virus in the buildup to the game, with some of them experiencing symptoms during the Centurion encounter.
“We love you Vernon, we do, oh Vernon we love you!”
— England’s Barmy Army (@TheBarmyArmy) January 7, 2020
Spinner Jack Leach had to return home to England midway through the tour having failed to make a notable recovery and despite not participating in any of the warm-up or Test matches.
Nonetheless, England made an excellent recovery after slumping to defeat in the opening match to win the following three in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg.
And, according to Marriott, the series victory meant a great deal after a difficult year in red-ball cricket for English cricket.
‘I thought Root proved his critics wrong on the captaincy front, and it was a joy to see Mark Wood back fit and firing once more,’ Marriott said.
‘The youngsters all played their part too … Sibley [Dom], Bess [Dom] and Pope [Ollie] all making valuable contributions.’
Speaking about the off-the-field experience of touring South Africa and celebrating both Christmas and New Year in the country, Marriott believes the encounters, complemented by the warm weather, all made for a pretty special two months away from home.
From the Highveld to the southwest and east coasts of the country, around 8,000 passionate English fans transcended on to South African shores for a bit of cricket fun and a holiday.
‘Cape Town is a bucket-list destination for every touring cricket fan. Not only is the city surrounded by beautiful mountains and beaches, Newlands is one of the most picturesque stadiums on the circuit.
‘Besides that, I think people really enjoyed the atmosphere at Centurion, with the grass banks full of locals getting involved in the fun and teaching us a few new songs.’
Celebrating their 25th active year, the Barmy Army partnered with the South African department of tourism and Castle Lager in the lead-up to the tour in order to provide the travelling fans with the best possible experience, while they also scheduled charity matches with the proceeds going to the Breadline Africa foundation.
Yesterday was awesome.
24 years on from the original fixture, we took on @SowetoPioneers with a few familiar faces in both teams!
Thank you to everyone who came to watch, over 15,000 Rand has been raised for the club
— England’s Barmy Army (@TheBarmyArmy) January 24, 2020
That included a soccer match against the popular Johannesburg-based sports fan group the Gwijo Squad, while regular visits to wine farms in Franschhoek and an exciting trip to the Cango Caves in Oudtshoorn were also on the itinerary.
With some time off between the second and third Tests, some members even visited he Shamwari Game Reserve outside Port Elizabeth.
‘It was also lovely to meet the Port Elizabeth band, and organise a duet of sorts between them and our very own Billy The Trumpet. Lest we forget the Gwijo Squad, who completely ousted us at The Wanderers. They were great company,’ said Marriott.
Last week saw @TheBarmyArmy take on the @GwijoSquad in a friendly football match in Johannesburg. It was the red and white of the English that scored an entertaining 4-3 victory #SAvENG pic.twitter.com/3TdAN0gFZF
— SuperSport (@SuperSportTV) January 28, 2020
The group’s involvement with Test cricket around the world has long made them a popular unit with their vocal yet humorous songs and enjoyment of the game.
Ultimately their support is somewhat unprecedented in helping the 11 English cricketers on the field, whether the team is in a good or bad situation.
That was most notable in the final session of day five of the second Test at Newlands when England required the final few South African wickets for victory.
‘I know that the players really appreciate it, and it was wonderful to see them come over and thank us at the end of that Test.
‘Obviously we aren’t bowling the balls or taking the catches, but we like to think of ourselves as the unofficial 12th man, giving them that little extra boost as they run into bowl and hear us sing their names,’ concluded Marriott.