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The last few days summed up why I watch the England side abroad.
Not only has the cricket picked up from an English point of view, but perhaps more importantly there is also a feeling in the air that the tour has finally started. After the disappointment of Dubai and its fairly soulless surrounds, the Sheikh Zayed Stadium has provided three brilliant days of spectator happiness.
The stadium, albeit in the middle of a desert (like everything here), is close enough to a major highway to make it reasonably accessible for both locals and tourists. With its grassy banks and seated ends, one covered and one open to the elements, all preferences are catered for. Happily the English support has respected local customs asking us to keep our shirts on during the cricket.
I mentioned in the previous update that word was the weekend days of Friday and Saturday would be well attended. By close of day three, the first weekend day, the ground must have been at least two-thirds full. From a cricket purist point of view, it was a joy to see the thousands of Pakistani cricket fans streaming into the ground throughout the day, taking advantage of the authorities' brilliant decision to open the gates for free throughout the Test.
It is pretty clear to me that Test cricket is alive and well. If you play a match based around a weekend and make the ticketing simple and affordable, people will turn up in numbers.
The banter between the England fans and our own players has also picked up thanks to the development of the tour as well as the arrival of several dozen supporters for the last two matches of the series.
Now, we England fans pride ourselves on being pretty up to speed with the players in our side. We chant for them, we encourage them and we are even seen on occasions celebrating or commiserating with them after a Test. Before the first Test started a number of us decided to gatecrash the final net session and have a chat with some of the players. One member of the Barmy Army who will remain nameless (but can be found wearing the full Union Jack attire) decided it would be a good idea to make the effort to chat with who he thought was the Barmy Army favourite Matty Prior. In front of several shell-shocked witnesses, he cried some words of encouragement towards the England wicketkeeper, before realising too late it was Jonathan Trott!
Prior already has his own personal cheerleader in the Barmy Army - a stalwart who goes by the nickname Deco. For the past few tours Prior has been greeted on a daily basis with shouts of "Morning Matty!" from Deco across Test grounds all over the world. Prior will always wave back, loving the support he receives from his No. 1 fan. On one occasion in Adelaide the cry came about an hour into the morning session - Matty turned towards the stand where the shout had emanated and gestured where an imaginary watch would be on his wrist, before putting his hands on his hips suggesting "Where have you been!"
After the Dubai incident, our nameless supporter has since adopted a similar "Morning Trotty!" greeting which has gone down so well that the rest of the players have been seen clapping and laughing along with the running joke - all whilst the game is in progress!
Even umpire Steve Davis has joined in with the banter, raising his hat to us as Billy, our famous trumpeter, played the Barmy Army's own version of "Waltzing Matilda" for Australia Day. If only he knew the words we sung…..
With Pakistani four down overnight, the promise of a four-day victory beckons. If we pull it off, the celebrations tomorrow will surely be both inside and outside of the hotel bar's happy hour.
Richard Kemp is in the UAE on his ninth cricket tour with the England side. Since his first tour in 2004, his love for the game has made him max out several credit cards visiting five Test-playing nations, including three tours of India and all five of last winter's Ashes Test matches. He keeps a travel blog of his journeys here
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