Barmy versus Beige
Test match cricket in the world's southernmost capital city, Wellington, is a special time even when Zimbabwe or Bangladesh are here, but a New Zealand against England fixture is peerless as a Kiwi cricketing occasion.
The city is squashed between Lambton Harbour and several steep hill ranges, creating a sense of compactness and immediacy (and occasionally claustrophobia), with the Basin Reserve a leisurely 15-minute stroll from the Wellington CBD's main strip of drinking establishments. The Basin is a ground established in what used to be a lake, smack bang in the middle of a busy one-way traffic roundabout.
It is fantastic to be nestled on the eastern bank, tucked away from the breeze and soaking up the sun in a drought-stricken Kiwi summer to end them all. It has a white picket fence around its perimeter, a proper scoreboard, a quirkily curated Cricket Museum, Soviet-style toilet blocks and grassy embankments.
This week at Beige Brigade headquarters, the pre-Test festivities in the capital began early, a full 18 hours before the first ball was bowled. We donned our brown and tan gear to take on the might of the touring Barmy Army XI at the picturesque, postage-stamp ground of the Wellington Collegians Cricket Club, Anderson Park in the Wellington Botanic Gardens.
The inter-fan T20 match (under Last Man Stands rules) was for The Rashes, represented by a lowly tub of hydrocortisone cream, and the idea for the three-match series emerged off the back of a challenge emanating from the English fans' tour captain, "Barmy Gilo".
Even at Anderson Park on Wednesday evening, a couple of hundred English supporters made the effort to get along and watch yet another game of cricket while on tour. This match kicked off with some patriotism, emotion and music. In-house philharmonic trumpeter Billy Cooper joined our beige-affiliated opera singer Simon Christie for the anthems ("Jerusalem" and "God Defend New Zealand"), some "diverse" cricket was played and afterwards we reconvened for a Moa lagers and pizza in the clubrooms.
The Barmy Army crew's boisterous and informed support is a subject of infatuation for the local Kiwi press but they're not everybody's cup of English breakfast: Ian Wooldridge of the Daily Mail famously compared the chanting to "lying in a mini-submarine being attacked by demented frogmen wielding sledgehammers against the hull".
However, the sledgehammer chanting is not so relentless these days and I've nothing but admiration for the way the 2013 edition supports England, whilst graciously appreciating maiden overs and stonking cover drives from the New Zealand players.
The Army - and the rest of the non-military England fans who have invaded the Antipodes - bring a genuine love, understanding, and appreciation of the game to Test cricket in this neck of the woods. Hundreds of blokes (and a handful of tolerant women) in white, St George crosses, football shirts, and Union Jack suits descend upon our grounds and create an unparalleled atmosphere at the games. It is fantastic.
They've been there through thick and thin too. The Army emerged from the grassroots of English cricket supporters when their team was famous for cataclysmic batting collapses and inspiring the cricketing cliché about snatching defeats from the jaws of victory. Being an English supporter must be much more fun these days.
We're often asked why the Beige Brigade does not become the catalyst for an epic game of sing-song at Test cricket. We don't think it would ever work. A few factors are at play here including the ingrained restraint and stand-offishness of most Kiwis, the absence of a song-singing football culture to tap into, and the simple fact that being away on tour encourages fans to stick together as a big platoon.
But the biggest barrier of all is that as a nation, we're just not very good supporters. New Zealanders tend to turn up to watch their team win, meaning support is conditional on the team doing well.
This cultural idiosyncrasy has emerged off the back of the success of the All Blacks - the national rugby union team with an extraordinary 75% winning record. And it means that at Test cricket grounds around the country this month, you're more likely to hear British accents talking of pork pies, warm beer, nowt and owt - most New Zealanders will stay home (and stay quiet) because they don't think the men in the black caps are going to win.
Paul Ford is a co-founder of the Beige Brigade. He tweets here