February 28, 2008

One for the road

XI cricketers who found the lure of alcohol a temptation too far

In a week where Jesse Ryder made headlines for late-night drinking either side of the final ODI between New Zealand and England, we look at XI other players who have found the lure of alcohol a temptation too far.


Media food: Andrew Flintoff during the 2007 World Cup © Getty Images
 

Ricky Ponting 1999
Aged 24, Ponting was struggling to hold down a place in the Australian side and had already been in more than his fair share of trouble when, after a failure in an ODI against England, he went to a nightclub in Sydney's Kings Cross district. Many drinks later there was a scuffle which ended with Ponting being thumped by a bouncer. Unfortunately for Ponting, his ignominious exit from the club was snapped by a photographer for the Sydney Morning Herald. Although the story didn't break, the Australian board took the initiative and made Ponting face the media, where he admitted he had little recollection of events. "I have to admit to myself that I have a problem with alcohol at times and I intend to overcome this problem," he said. That he did, seeking counselling and turning his life around, even though many said he was too far gone. If Ryder needs inspiration at this tough time, he need look no further.

Billy Barnes 1885
Barnes was unquestionably one of the late 19th century's great allrounders, so much so that he was able to bowl sides out or score hundreds while clearly drunk. A forceful character, all attempts to persuade or order him to quell his intake, at least during games, fell on deaf ears. In 1884-85 he was forced to miss the third Test at the SCG, when slightly the worse for wear, he tried to punch Australia's skipper Percy McDonnell but missed and thumped a brick wall instead. Arthur Shrewsbury, England's captain on the tour, referred to Barnes' alcoholic adventures as "visits to the land of the Golden Fleece".

Percy Sonn 2003
Proving that overdoing things is not the domain of players, Sonn, at the time the president of the South African board, hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons during the 2003 World Cup when he overdid corporate hospitality during a match between India and Netherlands in Paarl. As the day wore on, Sonn grew more relaxed, haranguing David Morgan, the ECB chairman who was there as his guest, about England's refusal to play in Zimbabwe. Racing driver Sarel van der Merwe, who witnessed the tirade, told reporters that Sonn "literally fell out of his pants". Sonn allegedly told one person present: "Brother I am so ****ing drunk I don't know where the **** I am."

Not quite appreciating the severity of the situation, he initially countered with: "If I used foul language, it was most probably suitable to the circumstances." The press had a field day, one report noting when Canada were dismissed for 36 that they were "bowled out in less time than it takes Sonn to empty a VIP drinks cabinet" while a Spectator article labelled him "the preposterous piss artist of Paarl". The inevitable apology followed soon after.

Andrew Flintoff 2005-2007
Flintoff is partial to the occasional tipple, and such was the national euphoria that he was forgiven spending England's central London post-Ashes celebrations in September 2005 in a grinning haze. But proving there's a time and a place for everything, his antics in the Caribbean during England's dismal World Cup campaign in 2007 became tabloid meat and drink when he fell off a pedalo and was one of six England players fined following a drinking session after England's defeat to New Zealand. Flintoff was thereafter stripped of the vice-captaincy, but the seriousness of the situation really hit home when Duncan Fletcher claimed that during the 2006-07 Ashes series, where Flintoff was captain, "he was in such a state he could not throw properly. He had to pass the ball to the bloke next to him to do so ... when it came to trying to catch the ball, I honestly thought I was going to hurt him, so uncoordinated was he."


Andrew Symonds was relegated to 12th man after an all-night drinking binge in 2005 © Getty Images
 

Andrew Symonds 2005
Symonds may have dominated headlines in the last couple of months for his mouth, but early in Australia's 2005 Ashes tour he was dropped after going out on an all-night drinking binge on the eve of an ODI in Cardiff and returning to the hotel as his team-mates were coming down to breakfast. Symonds passed out in his room and room-mate Michael Clarke had to stand him under the shower to wake him. Although he made it to the ground, Symonds raised the suspicions of Ricky Ponting and John Buchanan when he slipped off a wheelie bin while doing his stretches. He was banished to the dressing room and dropped. He later admitted he had thought: "Ah, it's only Bangladesh, a little bit of fizz won't be a worry." Later that day, as the hangover kicked in, Bangladesh recorded their first one-day win over Australia. Symonds was suspended for two matches.

Billy Bestwick 1921
Bestwick's issues with drink were so serious that Derbyshire appointed a full-time minder to keep him on the straight and narrow, although he regarded his shadow as a challenge to be shaken off, and invariably succeeded. In 1909 the county tired of his antics and sacked him, but he returned after the war. In 1921 he drank his way through the rest day in the Championship match against Glamorgan and was a doubtful starter. His captain told him to sweat it off by opening the bowling and Bestwick did just that, taking 10 for 40. A year later a hungover Bestwick was left at the team hotel before a game at Worcester. Annoyed, he paid to get into the ground, before loudly barracking his own side.

Bobby Peel 1897
Peel was from a generation where drinking to excess was not abnormal, but as long as a professional performed in the middle, such indiscretions were often overlooked. Wisden referred to one banishment as him merely "having to go away", while Lord Hawke, the county's authoritarian captain, once had to ban Peel for a week after he aimed to bowl at the pavilion believing it was a batsman. Peel also clashed with the authorities, mainly over pay, and his career ended at a stroke after one boozy lunch during a Yorkshire match at Bramall Lane in 1897. What actually happened is unclear - for years the story has done the rounds that Peel urinated on the pitch, but that is almost certainly an exaggeration - but he was unquestionably drunk. Lord Hawke, Peel recalled, "put his arm round me and helped me off the ground - and out of first-class cricket ... what a gentleman."

Angus and Alastair Fraser 1987
Early in the brothers' careers they were picked to play for Middlesex 2nd XI against Northamptonshire at Bedford School. With the first two days decimated by rain, a card school was established, and fed by trips to and from the hotel bar, it lasted ten hours. Angus Fraser, who according to team-mate Simon Hughes, could by then hardly speak, challenged his team-mates to a race across the River Ouse. Several players plunged in to find it was only a few feet deep - Keith Brown banged his head on the bottom, while both Frasers had their feet shredded by broken bottles. The next morning the sun shone but Middlesex faced taking to the middle with nine men as neither brother could get his boots on. Fortunately, the umpires abandoned the match and the Middlesex players made a subdued exit.


David Boon takes on supplies for the return flight © PA
 

Doug Walters 1977
Few geniuses of top-class sport have been able to scale the heights with such a marked disregard for their bodies. Walters' drinking and smoking habits would floor a small elephant. In 1977 he instigated the competition to see how many cans of lager could be consumed on the flight between Australia and England. Most of the team took part. Kim Hughes was an early leader before he crashed and burned by the time they reached Singapore, and by the end it was Walters against Rod Marsh. The drinks kept coming - "You wouldn't get that service on a plane now," Walters grinned later. "Then, every time they walked past Marshy and I, they dropped four cans on our thing ... they were probably the instigators more so than us." As the plane touched down, Walters finished can No. 44. "He was all right ... just," said team-mate Kerry O'Keeffe. "He was lighting cigarettes filter-first. I guess that's all right. You can do that sober."

Rod Marsh 1983
Marsh set out to beat Walters' record on the flight from Australia to England en route to the 1983 World Cup. Dennis Lillee was against the idea and thought the way round it was to take Marsh on a bender the night before. It failed. "He was ready to start as soon as we boarded, and it wasn't just a case of lining up the tinnies," Lillee recalled. "He had pace-setters and scorers to make sure it was all official. He was taking this record very seriously, and we had the full backing of the aircraft crew, who knew that he was trying to set the record. One of the stewardesses kept telling him: 'You keep drinking them and I'll keep bringing them'." He finished with 48, passing out on arrival at Heathrow. "Rod wasn't too good for several days after we landed ... but he blamed it on the jet lag."

David Boon 1989
Records are there to be broken, and 12 years after Marsh, the man nicknamed the "Keg on Legs" left Marsh in his wake when he demolished 52 cans on an Australia-England flight. In an era of fitness trainers and nutritionists, it's a record likely to stand, and even now Boon refuses to discuss it. It was also a solo effort. "Nobody accompanied Boonie," Geoff Lawson said. "We were all a bit more sensible. There weren't too many big drinkers in the team then. I think the culture of the 70s changed through the 80s." Boon passed out and awoke to a round of applause. "Bob Simpson [the coach] thought somebody had won a card game, until the plane's captain announced Boon had consumed 52 beers," recalled Dean Jones. "Simpson went purple with anger and I mentioned that maybe Boonie should be sent home." Jones crashed out on arrival at the team hotel in London, only to be woken by the concierge asking for him to come down and collect his sleeping room-mate - Boon.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo