February 15, 2017

The real spirit of cricket

Cricket has always had a drinking culture, but the promotion of alcohol in the game has reached saturation point now
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Drinking your body weight in alcohol is now par for course during a day's play © Getty Images

In the summer of 1989, three years prior to reaching the legal drinking age, I admit I'd already cracked open a good few cans of lager. Before I even watched David Boon in England during that Ashes series, I knew he had guzzled 52 tinnies on the flight from Australia. Fifty-two cans, on the way to an Ashes series. Perhaps it tells of the brash confidence of that great Aussie side that the almighty piss-up began before the 4-0 victory rather than after. Or it simply reflects the long and torrid relationship between cricket and alcohol.

All the blokes I played cricket with drank, as did the professionals of that era, and every other cricketing era. The modern game was born in a pub, the infamous Bat & Ball inn on Broadhalfpenny Down. From those beery afternoons with gamblers in top hats to mega-breweries emblazoned across billboards, willow and hops have forever been entwined.

Writing in 2009, shortly after Andrew Symonds had been dismissed from the Australian team for one beer too many, again, Mike Atherton worried that "cricket and booze" were inseparable. After calling out the hypocrisy of an organisation bankrolled by beer brands, and the "finger-pointing" righteousness of Ricky Ponting, a reformed legend of lager overload himself, Atherton also reminisced about his own drunken celebrations.

Cricket reflects culture, and this culture likes a drink. Therefore our cricketers like a tipple or two. Much of social cricket exists for the pub, and not the wicket. Every friendly XI has a local watering hole that may well be visited before and after - and quite possibly during - the game. This is a society that ranks machismo by counting drinks. I guess keeping score of pints downed over the course of an evening can be likened to tallying up your runs. A Man-of-the-Match award at my old rugby club was the right to demand a pint off the 14 other players. The No. 8 who went around the entire team twice was a 28-pint hero. No one recalls what he did on the pitch that day, just his mythical drink stat.

Beer might not fuel many great innings - although it may take wickets, as Nottinghamshire skipper Arthur Carr always made sure Harold Larwood had an ale at lunch - but it does bank pounds in the club coffers.

I watched some fine cricket at The Oval last year. At least I presume I did. The manic energy of those Friday-night T20s felt like a frat-house riot at the end of the world. The plastic cup relay was relentless. Blokes ferried pints from the bar like stoic pack mules, dangling cardboard carriers with drunken brio up and down the concrete steps, and only wobbling if a white sphere threatened to spill their carriage. The crack of leather on willow was drowned out by the cacophony of shoes crushing plastic cups. I forget the exact number, but the figures of the night weren't a miserly economy rate or stratospheric six count. It was a Bradmanesque ground revenue compiled from malted barley. Did Surrey win? No one was quite sure. The hammered fans were falling back into the Underground, and the staff were cashing up by the fistful.

Apart from swelling club accounts, like any drug, alcohol can bring pleasure, or pain. Jesse Ryder, James Faulkner, David Warner, Andrew Flintoff and Monty Panesar - although one could argue that the bouncers Panesar reportedly urinated on had a greater problem with his boozing - have all succumbed to the demon drink.

Appetite whetted by his 52-can prelude on the way over, David Boon (fourth from right) sinks a few more after Australia's win in the Headingley Test of 1989 © Getty Images

Perhaps I'm stating the helplessness of cricket's symbiosis/poisoning with alcohol to assuage my own guilt on being sent home from a cricket tour. Now my hair is more silver than ginger, but I at least have this much in common with Ben Stokes, expelled from an England Lions tour to Australia in 2013. I put forward my youth - I was a teenager - as my defence, along with the poor construction of a Norwich hotel. After a dozen or so spirits and lurid mixers, and a near-lethal climb onto the hotel roof, I decided a fire-exit sign was the ideal spot for a chin-up contest. The sign, and most of the ceiling, ended up on the floor, and the police found my room by following a trail of gypsum, broken glass, and vodka-blackcurrant.

I'm not blaming anyone for my behaviour. I was young and reckless, naïve to the powers of hard liquor. Reading Toby Hall's withering and well-researched "Cricket has a dangerous relationship with alcohol" in the Sydney Morning Herald, where he claims that saturation advertising by breweries resulted in "4600 incidents of alcohol promotion in just three one-day international cricket games", I have a case for indoctrination. Quoting international research, Hall contends that "exposure to high-level alcohol promotion teaches pro-drinking attitudes".

Take the hyphen away from the penultimate word of that last sentence and we're back to Boon on the plane in 1989. Don't worry, this isn't a Pom blaming an Aussie for his boozing. In fact that 2005 victory parade, where England's gods of the summer celebrated by unzipping their trousers in the garden at 10 Downing Street, probably launched an entire generation of sozzled wannabes.

Yes, we could temper our reliance on brewery branding, and certainly provide better support for players who seek solace in the bottom of a glass. However, the human condition is the cricketer's condition. Beer has been brewed since Neolithic times, and despite the bat-like shape of a caveman's club, we were drunk long before that first ball was ever bowled.

Nicholas Hogg is a co-founder of the Authors Cricket Club. His third novel, TOKYO, is out now. @nicholas_hogg

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Simon on February 20, 2017, 4:21 GMT

    Gulu Ezekiel, you need to do some research, mate. Bradman wasn't ostracized by his team, he was an active participant in a sectarian divide in the team between his Masons and the Catholics which included Bill O'Reilly and Jack Fingleton. Compounding that divide was the jealousy of teammates who believed Bradman thought he was a one man show. Boycott was perceived by teammates and opponents alike as self absorbed and developed a feud early in his career with Captain Brian Close, because he was perceived to bat for himself with no regard for the desires of the team outcomes. Whether they were teetotal was incidental to the greater divisions they were drawn into and in some cases created themselves.

  • alansa4022707 on February 17, 2017, 21:32 GMT

    You cant beat a few pints of over priced watered down lager at a test match

  • Zafer Abid on February 17, 2017, 12:36 GMT

    @HadesLogic - I don't know many professional cricketers personally. Whatever I have written is based on my experience of the society around me. The problem may not be as severe in India (pretty minimal I would like to think) but it is there. Do you remember Tendulkar's school friend? Also Gibbs has said about one of our current players "....... can put down a couple when he puts his mind to it." Let me clarify my view - Drinking is a personal choice and as long as society/other people aren't affected by somebody doing it, I don't care.

  • Jay Gadsdon on February 17, 2017, 10:28 GMT

    Cricket well test cricket is a great game to have on in the background usually over a few beers. Esp when some of the players look less fit than the spectators david boon inziman ul haq. Its not an intense viewing game

  • cchett4547419 on February 17, 2017, 9:33 GMT

    @HOOKTWOSIXES, BPO, there's one for statsguru!

  • Michael Best on February 17, 2017, 4:15 GMT

    In the seventies I lived in an apartment block on Boundary Road, Newlands right across the road from Newlands rugby ground (yes I was very popular in those days and it cost me a lot in beer money). Just about a three-minute stroll down the road was the old South African Breweries plant with a magnificent cricket ground out front. Every time I went by on game day there'd be mugs of beer behind each wicket. As you can imagine, the waiting list to get a game against the Brewery was a season and a half long.

  • Eugene on February 17, 2017, 0:35 GMT

    A T20 game has 40 overs, whereas a test can have up to 450. It stands to reason that T20 drinking has to be much more intense, beers per over.

    A pox on the neo-puritans!

  • Jon on February 16, 2017, 23:09 GMT

    What is the point of this article? People that play cricket like a drink like the rest of society does. In this country (UK) people go to the cricket more to socialise than to watch the game itself. It is not like in Asia where the fans are deeply passionate for their team. The average punter in this country goes to watch England and if they win or lose it barely makes any difference to them. The bigger picture is having a few drinks/laughs in a crowd of people generally having fun. I don't see much problem with it and it certainly wont change any time soon. Why do England fans love playing Aus and Saffas so much? The answer is that you can sit with oppo fans having some beers and generally having a laugh. The cultures at the core are very similar and drinking, like it or loathe it, is a huge part of this similarity.

  • Ron on February 16, 2017, 22:03 GMT

    @ZS32, I don't know what your experiences have been but it's poor form to generalise it to Ind as a whole when there is enough evidence to the contrary. Just because drinking has increased does not mean it is widely prevalent or accepted. Your amateur cricket analogy is maybe from the same population of 'stressed out drinkers' because no professional or semi-professional outfit / team / coach in Ind would condone such habits AT ALL. Also, do not confuse rise in alcohol consumption in Ind with the author's issue with 'cricket's relationship with alcohol'. Two VERY different things. @MASKEDMAGPIE, sorry for your loss but again let's not mix a general societal issue (drinking culture) with the author's focus on exploring the link between cricket and alcohol.

  • Cricinfouser on February 16, 2017, 22:02 GMT

    At the amateur level I'd say the link is breaking because more and more aren't staying post match for a drink. Youth now go straight home as well.

    I think the link between beer and cricket now only exists at pro level where it seems people go there to just get legless and the cricket is just the excuse. Suits test grounds and 2020 games though as that's where they make their money.

    Sadly, it means it's not a family friendly atmosphere when you have such large amounts of drink and associated frivolity