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Cricket's tippling tales

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Drink_drunk_alcohol_players_CricketWith England Lions batsman Ben Duckett reportedly pouring a pint of beer over James Anderson at a Perth bar last month, the bitter-sweet relationship between cricketers and their favourite tipple came into the limelight yet again. Sharing a drink or two with the opponent after a hard day’s play has long been an Ashes tradition and has led to lasting camaraderie. On the other hand, having one too many has often left quite a few players red-faced.

Wide sponsorship of international teams and series by major breweries in most of the Test-playing nations has further strengthened cricket’s close association with the amber nectar over the years. From Victoria Bitter (VB) in Australia and Castle in South Africa, to Tetley’s Brewery in England and Red Stripe in the Caribbean, beer culture has deeply intertwined itself with the game, so much so that sipping on a cold one while watching the cricket is par for the course.

Duckett’s act snowballed into another controversy, as if England did not have enough on their plate (or in their glass), what with the preposterous drama surrounding Ben Stokes and their run-of-the-mill showing in the Ashes thus far. However, it was not the first time that a cricketer has attracted attention due to his drinking antics, and it certainly will not be the last. Let us look back at a few anecdotes of established cricketers who were as productive in the pub as they were on the field.

The tearaway who thrived on ale

England’s Harold Larwood was one of the deadliest bowlers of his time, and a central figure in the infamous ‘Bodyline’ Ashes series of 1932-33. Arthur Carr, under whom he played for Nottinghamshire, played an instrumental role in making him realise his immense potential. Carr was an unabashed guzzler, and it was only natural that he introduced a drinking culture in his team. Larwood gradually developed a strong liking for the ale served by his gregarious captain.

Carr claimed that the secret of Larwood’s success came out of a beer bottle. In his award-winning biography of Larwood, author Duncan Hamilton writes that the speedster used to be ‘well fed on ale’ before he went in to bowl. Hamilton also mentions that Larwood was soon spelling out the benefits to new recruits. “Beer gives you strength, and you’ve got something to sweat out”, was what Larwood believed. Needless to say, a pint or two always worked for him.     

When Sobers wasn’t sober

The great Garfield Sobers was known for his penchant for nights out. He was in the twilight of his career on the 1973 tour to England; yet, he slashed his final Test century at Lord’s - while recovering from a hangover. He ended the first day on 31, and spent the night drinking into the wee hours with an old friend, former West Indian spinner Reg Scarlett. Realising it was too late to sleep, they decided to stay awake. At the bar, of course. Sobers writes in his autobiography:

“We drank until about 9 o'clock, then I got a cold shower, walked up to Lord's, got my pads on and walked out as the umpires called play," he said. "I took guard, but all I could see as Bob Willis ran up was arms and legs. The first five balls I missed, and I could hear Kanhai and everyone else up in the pavilion laughing. Anyhow, the sixth ball hit the bat.” With his stomach churning, he headed back when on 132, and returned a couple of hours later to finish with 150*.  

Doug Walters – a glass apart

Besides his aggressive batting that gave him a Test average of 48.26, Doug Walters was also reputed for being a drinking legend. On the 1972-73 flight from the West Indies, where Australia won the series 2-0, he is said to have sank 44 cans in a beer-drinking joust with Rodney Marsh. During the 1976-77 Christchurch Test, being 129* overnight, he celebrated at the hotel bar until morning. He was soon walking out to resume his innings - and ended up with a career-best 250.   

Boonie’s record-breaking binge

David Boon’s Test numbers read 7,422 runs at a healthy average of 43.65, with 21 hundreds and 32 fifties. However, his most celebrated innings, an unbeaten 52 scored on a Qantas flight to Heathrow in 1989, is one that he himself refuses to confirm: “Never spoke about it, never will”, was what the Tasmanian told the Weekend Australian Magazine years later. Nevertheless, many of his teammates do vouch for the authenticity of the record knock, which gave him cult status.

The challenge was to break the record for the most tinnies (cans of beer) consumed on a flight. Doug Walters, with his impressive tally of 44, was regarded as the record-holder, though some claim that Rod Marsh went one better in 1983. Whatever the existing record was, Boon surpassed it by some distance. The announcement of the new record by the captain was greeted with thunderous applause, and Boon’s final stats were 52 VB cans of 375 ml each in 24 hours. Some feat, that.    

‘Fredalo’ and all that

Andrew Flintoff had his fair share of boozy shenanigans. The low point came during the 2007 World Cup, when he was involved in a drunken escapade after England’s first game in St. Lucia. Flintoff dragged a pedalo into the sea and had to be rescued after it capsized. In his 2015 book Second Innings, Flintoff stated that drinking ‘turns him into an idiot’. He also admitted that he was drunk on a few Stellas while scoring his second Test hundred, against South Africa in 2003.   

 

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Rustom Deboo is a cricket blogger and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of Test...

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