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Test cricket’s return highlights importance of fans

Under usual circumstances, English cricket fans – and more than a few members of the Barmy Army – would have been pouring into Old Trafford today – rain or shine – for day three of the second Test against the West Indies.

But, as we’ve heard so many times, these are not normal circumstances and on that basis, the ECB, the West Indies, and England set-ups and everyone else involved in helping this historic series take place deserve a lot of credit.

The series opener at the Ageas Bowl served as a fantastic reminder of what makes Test cricket so special – the tension, the drama, and the excitement – but also clearly highlighted what was missing.

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There was no-one present – bar Mark Wood – to roar Jerusalem after the first ball of the day, no one to cheer in celebration as Stokesy stroked an on-drive to the fence, as Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley made their first half-centuries on home turf, or as Jofra Archer wheeled away in celebration of his second wicket on day five.

When England needed to get going after lunch on the final and decisive day – when they needed a Barmy Army wicket – there was no atmosphere for them to draw on, no-one to give them that “extra 5 or 10%”, as Dom Bess put it.

Countless players have spoken of the impact that the England fans had on the final day of that famous win in Cape Town earlier this year when we sang endlessly through the afternoon and into the evening session.

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In our Barmy Army Meets Q&As and on the Shackles Are Off podcast, players past and present have told their own tales of similar moments when fans have been integral to a triumph – and that was missing in Southampton.

Sky may have been playing the Lord’s hum but in truth that was no substitute for a proper atmosphere and without the sort of support that gets the players’ “beans going” – in the words of 2005 Ashes hero Simon Jones – it just wasn’t the same.

It might seem a long way off but we’ll be back before you know it and when we are, fans are going to more important than ever to Test cricket and its survival.

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Not only are the returning supporters going to be key to bringing back the atmospheres that make the game what it is, but it will also aid the game’s revenue – something England Men’s director of cricket Ashley Giles has suggested that all nations will need to do moving forward.

Getting fans back in stadiums will be a huge boost to that and there will no better way to make your mark and support the premier format of the game than as part of the Barmy Army.

“We offer a safe style of support,” says Barmy Army managing director Chris Millard. “Members all sign up to a code of conduct to ensure that it is enjoyable, fun, energetic but safe and never overstepping the line. We respect all cricket fans.

Chris (left) with Joe Root and Michael Atherton

“What’s so important for us is having an active, not passive style of support. Ensuring that we give our all to provide that 5 or 10% boost for the players, that something extra to drive the players on – when we’re on top and in tough moments.

“The culture that we have created at the Barmy Army is something that we feel can be replicated all over the world and in other sports.”

He added: “Watching the recent Test matches has proven exactly what fans mean to the game.

“While we feel that the opinions and requirements are often somewhat overlooked, it is absolutely clear how much the game still needs the support of full stadiums.

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“Test cricket has an amazing following in England but how long will that last? Around the world, it is clear that other teams struggle to fill stadiums without the support of an England tour with the Barmy Army attending in our droves.”

The Prime Minister suggested on Friday that plans were in place to get fans back into stadiums, with social distancing measures in place, in October – so things are at least moving in the right direction.

In the meantime, we’re working hard to ensure England fans enjoy the summer of cricket as much as possible – with a Barmy Army song playlist on our website, live Jerusalem singalongs on Facebook, ex-player Instagram takeovers, BarmyOfTheDay competitions, and much, much more…

Stay tuned on our social media and keep your eyes peeled if you want to take part!