The cricket authorities in England are awaiting the opening of Friday’s Test match with Australia with a mixture of anticipation and dread. Anticipation because the cricket this summer has been superb – and another England victory would clinch a rare triumph in an Ashes series against Australia. Dread because the English supporters have taken to ill-mannered booing of the Australian players, and this match will take place at Headingley, where the crowd is notoriously drunk and rowdy.

Cricket is a game that has always prided itself on its tradition of sportsmanship, captured in the very phrase – “It’s not cricket.” The chairman of the English cricket board has appealed to the crowd not to barrack Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain, when he walks to the wicket. But the chairman may be disappointed.

Now comes an unexpected twist to the story. Leading members of the Australian team have said that they do not mind the barracking from the crowd – some even claim to find it inspirational. Shane Watson, Australia’s opening batsman, has said that “It’s a great part of being here in England.”

Being insulted by a drunk Yorkshireman in a polyester replica shirt is not normally counted as one of the highlights of a visit to England. But if the Australian team do no object to the abuse, do the rest of us have any right to complain?

Actually – yes, we do. It can be a real pain to sit anywhere near the “Barmy Army”, the rabid England supporters who do most of the chanting. At their worst, they are drunk, foul-mouthed, mindlessly partisan and curiously uninterested in the cricket. If they are allowed to set the tone at matches, supporters who prefer to watch in a more civilised atmosphere will simply stop going.

To be fair, on good days the Barmy Army can be funny. When Mark Waugh, an Australian player, was caught up in a betting scandal a few years ago, they came up with the song: “Mark Waugh is an Aussie/He wears the baggy cap/But when he saw the bookie’s cash/He said I’m having that.” This is Wildean wit compared with the one-word chant of “Ingerlund” favoured by football supporters.

The trouble is that too many England cricket fans crossed the line between “banter” and boorishness a long time ago. Chanting and booing the opposition have their place – at football matches. But if Test match cricket abandons its own tradition of sportsmanship, it will lose a large part of its charm along the way.

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