Sackcloth and Ashes, but Barmy Army remains as loyal as ever

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The Independent Online

To be English and to be in Australia at the present time is not recommended for those without a strong constitution.

In the wake of England's five-nil drubbing by Australia in the Ashes series, the thousands of English fans who flew out to support their team were yesterday reeling from the ultimate in humiliation.

Headlines in Australian newspapers summed up the attitude towards the English team - "Smashed!", "Crushed!" and "You bloody bewdy!" being just three.

Yet, while the Barmy Army - who account for most of the spectating tourists and have followed the England cricket team through thick and thin - may have been dejected as they left the Sydney Cricket Ground, their love for the team was undimmed.

They vowed to be in the Caribbean this Easter - where England will be competing in the World Cup and were already looking forward to the Ashes rematch in 2009 when Australia will be without at least two of their match-winning heroes, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.

And while initial reaction to the hordes of Barmy Army fans in Australia was hostile - their trumpeter (who was busy giving a rendition of the Last Post yesterday) was banned from the ground at the first Test in Brisbane and the fans were not allowed to sit together - by the end of the series many Australians had taken them to their hearts.

They caused no trouble (they never have done) and they even earned themselves a slot on an Australian television show singing Eric Idle's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life!", the finale to Monty Python's Life of Brian.

Even in the depth of his misery, the England cricket captain, Andrew Flintoff, took time to thank them for their support and applauded their efforts to keep up the morale of the team during seven trying weeks.

As for the disastrous 5-0 thrashing - the first time England have suffered a whitewash against Australia for 86 years, nobody was underestimating the size of the disappointment felt by cricket-lovers both in Australia and those who had sat glued to their TV sets through the night in England (the ones who hadn't switched off when the first ball of the series from pace bowler Steve Harmison ended up in Flintoff's hands at second slip without the intervention of the batsman!)

As the former England opener Geoff Boycott put it: "It's one hell of a beating, isn't it? I mean, they have just been murdered. Quite frankly, they were totally outplayed." Speaking on BBC Radio Five Live, he added: "There were odd moments in the series when there has not been too much in it. And when you just saw England, if they could have been strong enough to get into the contest, might do something. They have just bottled it."

Meanwhile, English cricket fans were putting a brave face on some of the cruel headlines including: "Attention England's batsmen: This is what the ball looks like". And, while the Barmy Army might have been the first cricket fans to turn to song, the Australians have hit back with "Cheer Up, Michael Vaughan" (to the tune of the Monkees' "Daydream Believer").

"Cheer Up, Michael Vaughan
How bad must it be?
To be a poor Pommie person
Now you're watching on TV".

All the fans - those who could remain optimistic - could say in response was: "Wait for 2009!"

So what CAN we beat the Australians at?

By Thair Shaikh

* RUGBY UNION

The English rugby team, led by Martin Johnson, beat hosts Australia in the 2003 World Cup - England's greatest sporting achievement since 1966. England snatched a 20-17 victory with a drop-goal by Jonny Wilkinson in extra time.

* WOMEN'S ASHES

In 2005 the England women's cricket team won the Ashes for the first time in 42 years. During the Ashes victory parade through central London, the women followed the men in their own bus.

* MOUNTAIN BIKING

English riders Liam Killeen and Oli Beckinsale won gold and silver respectively in the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. They both raced past the Australian Chris Jongewaard on the penultimate lap.

* DANCE

Timothy Howson and Joanne Bolton won the Professional Standards Cup in the Crystal Palace DanceSport competition in May 2006. More than 200 couples took part in the event. Australia came ninth.

* CROQUET

Great Britain beat Australia in the MacRobertson Shield final, the croquet equivalent of the Ashes. Australia lost 19-2.

* BLIND CRICKET

England's hat-trick of wins against Australia came in their opening match of the Blind Cricket World Cup in 2006.

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