Having spent more time at The Basin over the weekend than it takes some people to get their pilot's licence, I'd have to say many of the memories indelibly etched in my memory come back to one group of people: the English (and occasionally Welsh) fans.
They really are extraordinary. There is the much celebrated hardcore group of Barmy Army supporters, among them such luminaries as Batman (with bat), Robin (silly mid-off), the Knights of the Round Table, a roll of English public school boys, bearded ladies galore (some with child), a lone gorilla, and a smorgasbord of Ryan Sidebottoms.
Out front will be the man nicknamed Jimmy Savile, who is actually Vic Flowers. He is the 56-year-old lunatic from Oldham who you will have seen conducting the chants from the front row most days. He must be a contender for the coolest granddad in the world. At the invitation of Kevin Pietersen, he famously joined the 2005 Ashes victory celebration in central London - leading the songs of celebration (and lager) in Trafalgar Square.
Another star is Billy Cooper, the trumpeter who is also a member of the London Philharmonic Orchestra when he is not drinking pints on the southern bank at the Basin. This is not some idiot with an air horn: the man can play. Jerusalem regularly opens the day's play, and his repertoire includes Livin' on a Prayer ("...halfway there..." as Tim Ambrose reaches 50), The Addams Family (Oram the ogre comes on to bowl), Yakety Sax - the Benny Hill theme (a dropped catch) and plenty of songs about the Barmy Army themselves. (The monotonous "one...two...three dollars to the pound...we're so rich it's unbelievable" ditty seems to have fallen victim to the FX market, and that is no bad thing.)
As someone once said to me, the latter efforts are a bit like an artist who paints a picture of a brush and easel, or a rock song about rock & roll, but in the sun in Wellington not many Kiwis mind a little bit of self-indulgence.
But it's not just about the BA. Elsewhere at the Basin, there are hundreds, nay thousands, of other English supporters. They seem to fall into three broad categories - all brought together by common nationality and a love of cricket.
The Cruisers: And I don't mean the so-relaxed-they're-horizontal. I mean the ladies and gents that must have stepped into the Basin from a cruise ship. A dazzling array of socks and sandals, walk shorts, wielding goggle sunglasses and more tracksuits than the 1984 Olympic Games. All are wired to the commentary through retro and not-so archaic radios and headsets.
The Chimers: These are the Poms that are actually Kiwis, except when the English Test cricket team is in town. There's that bloke from work or your local footy team that has lived here for ten years, supports the Canes and the All Blacks, but dons his English football shirt for his day at the Basin. Fair play to him too - that sense of patriotic pride and the desire to wear one's heart on one's sleeve is wonderful to see.
The Chaff: These are the chaps who happened to be in NZ backpacking their way around the country to escape the misery of a northern hemisphere winter. Many will be doing their GAP year at a local college, joined by their mates from old Blighty for a few weeks. Others will be pulling pints at the local pub so they can fre wheel about the South Island with their skis, a thirst and a $500 car.
Together with the slightly startled New Zealand fans - many wearing beige, bless them - the atmosphere is fantastic. Stand in their line of sight and you'll hear all sorts of jumbled up phrases tumble upon your ears, "Moo vovah. Ah ma trynah watch thee creckitt."
Their sheer strength of numbers meant people were turning up well before the scheduled start of play over the weekend, and only then able to secure the bare minimum of available acreage on the bank. Normally at a Test in NZ, only three men and a creepy man with a flag bother with this: most swagger in sometime during the first session and have hectares of grass upon which to unfurl themselves and their hangovers.
They know their cricket too. Educated fans for sure. Even the Kiwi cucumber sandwich brigade up in the R A Vance Stand sometimes overlook clapping a maiden, acknowledging a bowler who creates a chance that a fielder then foozles, saluting a gritty 50-run partnership, or groaning when a nick through slips bounces in front of a desperate catcher's talons. But not when England are here - most supporters are absorbed in the game's unravelling, especially when England are amassing a lead of around 400,000 runs.
The axed Steve Harmison trots past after delivering a few drinks to his team-mates, and a smattering of applause accompanies his passing by. It's just a little thing, but he glances up at those clapping as if to say: "Cheers, appreciate your support." If that had been one of our bowlers, there'd have been silence or the eye-rolling demand: "Oi, O'Brien - give us a wave."
The English fans know how to support - their backing of their team is undiminished no matter how hopeless the state of play appears, or how many runs Monty Panesar leaks whilst trying to be hidden at mid-on. Their pain threshold knows levels much higher than any this NZ side can possibly inflict in a three-Test series.
Of course, occasionally they can't contain themselves. Ian Bell launches an extravagant aerial shot that just evades the dirty fingernails of Sinclair at point and crashes into the picketed boundary fence: "Fer fook's sake Bell - settle darn - eet's a bloomin' Test match!"
The next day Kevin Pietersen drops a catch that Blind Freddy would have been disappointed not to pouch. A man in a Beige Brigade shirt yells out, his voice resonating around the ground: "Keep your mind on the job Romeoooo". Quiet English approval mutters all around. Then a Birmingham accent launches the follow-up: "Yer've been shee-ite since ya got murried KP."
Good on them. Thanks for coming one and all - and a special thanks from NZ Cricket too, especially for the signage revenue from Spearmint Rhino. Classy!
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