Cricket fans will be bowled over by the warm welcome awaiting them in the West Indies, where a trio of wave-lapped, sunshine isles – Barbados, Grenada and Antigua – offer fast-paced cricket in the Caribbean. With the coveted Winners Cup awarded after a month of top Test action, the Barmy Army will have plenty to explore when it comes to Calypso cricket.
The Barmy Army was founded by cricket nuts Paul Burnham, Gareth Evans and David Peacock in 1995 in Australia while following the 94/95 Ashes tour, and has since led the crowds with boisterous zeal at every international fixture. Accompanied by Billy the Trumpet (easily as famous in cricketing circles as Alastair Cook), the Barmy Army is now the UK’s largest and most successful membership organization aimed at helping cricket fans watch and support the England cricket team all over the world. They organize cricket tours, provide match day tickets and run a very successful membership scheme. Then, at the ground itself – often clad in fancy dress tutus, nun outfits or Tarzan costumes (or simply cloaked in an England flag) – they rally around the stands to get the crowds singing as they swelter red-faced behind home-spun banners.
There has arguably never been a better time to follow the England cricket team abroad than in 2015 – a year when our national heroes prepare to jet off to the Caribbean as strong contenders for the gong. England embarks on the World Cup under the captaincy of Irishman Eoin Morgan, who has motivated a fresh crop of cricketing talent. England looks strong at the top of the order, and after a few recent struggles, there is absolutely no expectation on the English team – which is often when they place their best.
Brits make enthusiastic cricket fans, fired up to cheer on the exploits of their team thousands of miles away from home. As a long established favourite place to tour with the England team, the Caribbean promises a warm welcome to its flag-waving visitors. Some arrive for a single game, while others stay for a fortnight or commit to the entire twenty-six-day tour.
There is something compelling about the sound of leather on willow and the nerve jangling, nail biting, edge of the seat experience of a Test Series under golden, cloudless skies. In Barbados, Grenada and Antigua so much is guaranteed for the traveling sports fan – the daylong hot, sunshine, the ice-cold beer, the rhythmic drumming, the dancing and the after-match calypso partying. The big “unknown”, however, is how England will perform – but the diehard Barmy Army in their Union Jack shorts swear that’s half the fun.
Certainly, when the sun beats down on the turf relentlessly and the mood is mellow, the crowd is all-smiles and cheering good humour, whoever is notching up the runs. Several thousand members of this loyal fan base are expected to fly into the Caribbean for the Test match series between West Indies (known as the “Windies”) and England in 2015 – and will undoubtedly make every day count in spirited fashion. Daubed with distinctive red-and-white war paint, they unfurl Union Jacks the size of a double bed and belt out Jerusalem and the National Anthem, pausing only for a bit of playful goading and good-natured jeering.
Now a cricketing institution, the Barmy Army is the master of good-naturedly taunting opposing players and entertaining spectators around the world with their rituals, songs and cheers. Of course, the ground will erupt in total and utter cricket euphoria when ever England score a “6”. The atmosphere may be languid but the West Indies know how to set the pitch ablaze with lightning-quick deliveries from craft bowlers, not to mention the powerhouse batsmen with fearsome averages. Though today’s squad has yet to achieve the triumphs of the West Indies team of yesteryear, when it ruled the cricket world under Clive Lloyd – playing undefeated in test matches for over 15 years – an injection of exciting young blood holds promise.
A unifying pastime, cricket in the Caribbean is worshipped with an almost religious zeal, and each of the three venues of England’s Windies tour of 2015 offers its own colourful cricketing history, having played host to many of the world’s greatest players. The Kensington Oval in Barbados is the grand dame of the Caribbean, while the brand-new Sir Vivian Richards stadium in Antigua offers stylish modernity and the Grenada National Stadium in Grenada readies itself for its inaugural test.
The 2015 three-Test tour in the Caribbean begins in April, with a couple of two-day warm-up games in St Kitts on 6th-7th and 8th-9th April. The Test itself starts in Antigua on 13th-17th April, before moving to Grenada on 21st-25th April for the second Test and then to Barbados for the third Test, from 1st-5th May.
Stadiums are expected to be full to capacity with large numbers of British fans travelling to the Caribbean for a sun-kissed festival of calypso cricket. Away from the field, fans will be able to watch highlights on big screens around all three islands and also visit much-acclaimed cricketing museums and heritage centres in Antigua, Grenada and Barbados. Azure waters, coral reefs and lush landscapes, not to mention great food, music and culture, all combine to make an unforgettable experience of cricket in the Caribbean. Of course, given the idyllic beaches and rainforests of these scenic island destinations, many holidaying cricket fans will combine a match or two with some time spent on the powdery Caribbean sands.
Virgin Atlantic operates flights to the Caribbean from London Gatwick, making it easy to book your cricket tour of the Caribbean isles.
Have you experienced cricket in the Caribbean? Have you been on any Barmy Army tours? Let us know in the comments section below.