Inspired by a diehard England fan’s ten-month vigil to watch his team play in Sri Lanka, a group of expats have traveled across India to become the only members of the Barmy Army to sing in the second Test. Rob Lewis became a Barmy Army hero last month as the only England supporter to attend the team’s tour of Sri Lanka after 10 months of waiting in the country due to coronavirus restrictions. His trip prompted a group of six expats – four British working in three Indian cities, one American and one Australian – to make the trip for the match at MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, where fans have been admitted by authorities in the cricket-mad nation for the first time since the pandemic struck.
“We got in touch with Rob through a mutual friend and tried to get him to India,” said Joe Phelan, 47, from London.
“The plan was to get him to the cricket field … But due to travel restrictions it just wasn’t possible.”
After the England team went home from Sri Lanka last year, superfan Lewis worked remotely in the South Asian island country as a web designer and took stints as a DJ at a nightclub to make ends meet.
His painstaking effort to watch England made the group realize that, as some of the few foreigners in India, they were in a privileged position to watch the game live.
“Then suddenly tickets became available and, really inspired by Rob and what he meant to English fans and all cricket fans, we thought we were in India and could go,” said Phelan from Delhi.
All six wore T-shirts with Lewis’ face under their matching blazers from the Delhi expatriate cricket club, the Viceroys, to which most of them belong.
Foreign tourists are still excluded from India, leaving Phelan and the five others the only voices to support Joe Root and his men.
The other Englishmen are Harry Martin, 30, who lives in Mumbai, Mark May, 58 in Delhi, and Simon Harrison, 35, who has traveled from Hyderabad.
‘Sore throat by Sunday night’
The small contingent of the Barmy Army will be outvoted by some 15,000 home fans, but they have promised to justify it anyway.
“We will try to get some Indians to sing with us,” said Phelan.
“We’re singing our best and I hope we have a sore throat on Sunday night.”
The English were joined by 30-year-old Matt Christensen from the United States and Australian Peter Nicholls, 44.
The Australian wasted no time sledging his English mate Phelan while they lined up to enter the rugged stadium.
“It’s so rare for England to do well. He (Phelan) is out of his comfort zone because England doesn’t normally do well,” he joked.
But perhaps stung by Australia’s recent home series defeat by India, Nicholls claimed he still had to take sides in the game.
“I am torn, I have two daughters born in India and I have a woman born in England,” he said.
“I’m not sure who has more power over me.”
Language of cricket
Christensen, meanwhile, took in all the atmosphere in his very first live cricket match.
“I’m a big baseball fan and I know that a lot of baseball comes from cricket,” said the American with a smile.
“When I found out that I was moving to India I didn’t have time to study Hindi, but I knew there was another language that Indians spoke and that is cricket,” he added.
“So I decided I’m going to learn all about cricket and I’m super happy to be here.”
The six men planned to be in Chennai until Sunday evening before flying home.
But Phelan said he was in contact with other India-based English fans prior to the two Tests in Ahmedabad.
The third test will be the first game at the western city’s new stadium, the world‘s largest, but it’s unclear whether fans will be allowed in.
“Whether we’re there or passing the baton to other English fans,” said Phelan, “the Barmy Army will be in Ahmedabad too.”
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