Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cricket and Beer

As the summer approaches, a young man’s thoughts turn away from football and Rugby League and draft picks and salary caps and turn gently towards rolled pitches, long hot days and baggy green caps. The cricket season is upon us and the sporting landscape seems just a little flatter and dipped in more subdued tones.

That is not to say that the summer is more boring – although those who have sat through a day and a half of England batting on a glass top may say otherwise – but it is certainly more relaxed. Like Ian Botham on an Indian tour.

Cricket and beer have been partners for some time, from the sponsorships by breweries of teams, tournaments and tours to the merchandising. And, of course, a few brews made the long and sometimes tiring procedure of five days of test match cricket a little more bearable. We haven’t always had an Adam Gilchrist or Mike Hussey and others to produce sparkling displays of boom-boom cricket like today’s crowds have.

The most recent beer - cricket product gimmick has been the talking dolls series. Little famous cricketer figures that sit on your telly and are prompted by secret frequency messages to say things at certain times. Beginning in the summer of 2005-06 with the Boony Doll and continuing last season with the Boony/Botham opening combination, this year it will continue when we see the introduction of the Warnie Doll. Seems a bit odd that a bloke who has got into more shit than a Werribee duck every time he articulates thought would allow these same thoughts to be distributed around the country in the form of three and a half inches of moulded plastic. Having said that, mine is on order and I can’t wait.

Beer has also been an integral piece of the cricket landscape inside the ground. From the many and varied ways in which cunning drinkers have attempted to smuggle grog into the ground to the ritual ‘drink-until-you-chuck’ dance and finishing with the group chorus of “You’re goin’ home in the back of a divvy van”, beer and the usually unsuccessful attempts to master it, have coloured the canvas of a day at the cricket. Many have coloured the canvas of their trousers and the ground beneath their seats as well in the course of disrespecting the beer.

As part of our misspent youth, Dr. Lager and I, along with anything up to twenty mates, partners and hangers on, would trek to the G’ during the Boxing Day test match or to a One Day International. Far from being the uncontrollable delinquents who seem to have taken over the gentile confines of Australia’s greatest sporting Mecca these days, the Dr. and I were students of the craft, admirers of the skill and custodians of the history and the traditions. We also drank a bit. But we took the train and we never got silly or kicked out. By which I mean we never got caught. I did say misspent.

We really did study the game and discuss the various merits of the tactics and field placements but this didn’t mean we couldn’t enjoy ourselves as well. We also learned that there was much to be learned from observing the tactics and movements of those inside the hallowed stands of the MCG and in particular, Bay 13. Like the blokes in front of us, one sunny day, who sat down, settled in, popped the lid off the Esky and turned to us young uns’ saying; “Youse blokes wanna few drinks?” Now, we were as poor as a pensioner in the pokies car park at this time and not too proud to accept freebies – even if they were only softies. After all, even back in 1980 a Coke at the cricket cost about the same as a train ride to the ground and back. “Cheers mate.”

The unexpected charity of these erstwhile strangers was soon explained. This is brilliant. The pre-game preparation for these blokes was to load up the Esky with four layers of beer, followed by a layer of soft drinks and finished off with a single can of Vic Bitter on the top. At the turnstile, where they were checked by an aging MCC gate attendant, they would ‘own up’ to wanting to take just one VB in with their lunch – “Come on cobber, just the one, Ay?” To which old Jack would say, “Sorry fellas, appreciate your honesty, but I’ll have to take that.” “Orright, digger, no harm in trying.”
All that was left was to clear the Esky surface of the alluvial deposits of Coke and Fanta and reach the amber mother lode. Like I said, brilliant.

This was in the era before mobile phones. Had he had a phone I would have got his number early in the day so that I could ring him and thank him for his generosity and commend him on his ingenuity. I would also have been able to tell him how the last three hours of play panned out as he was escorted from the ground, along with his ingenious mates, by the local constabulary before the tea break. More on that situation later.

Of course this cloak and dagger stuff was going on all around the place. Well, probably not in the Members Stand and the old Olympic Stand which was a dry area but pretty much everywhere else. Those who couldn’t sneak cans in were resigned to queuing for long periods at the old style bars around the G’. For the younger folk, these bars were fewer in number than they are today and they didn’t have the fancy computerised multi pour conveyor belt system at their disposal. The beers were poured lovingly and painfully slowly by, I think, the same Old Jack from the turnstiles, and then you had to pay him. The crowd behind you had to wait for this theatre to conclude. Today you walk up, grab a four pack and take it to a register pay, piss off and then sit down and piss on.

The inherent danger in the old system was that one poor sod had to miss part of the action. If you waited for a break in order to miss no action you also got no beer because the queue was so long. We had the problem solved by nominating an ‘A’ Team and a ‘B’ Team. The ‘A’ team would head off and hit one or several bars, each man buying the maximum number of beers permitted and returning without missing much at all. The ‘B’ would then repeat the process later in the session. It was obligatory for the team staying in their seats to claim that the girl in the row in front had shown us her tits while the other team was buying beer.

Another method for relieving the tedium was to watch as an ‘ice fight’ broke out. Because you never knew when an ice fight would actually break out, the sensible thing to do was to start an ice fight. It was not sensible, however, to get caught starting or joining in an ice fight. Security was usually quick to react to this sort of buffoonery. Our tactic was to create a diversion; something along the lines of “Look over there, TITS!!!” would do the trick, at which point you would go with a swift, no-look lob of an ice block over the head, then sit back and watch the fun.

One day the fun went a little bit south when we started (and then got right into) a very large and energetic ice fight. Beginning with a small but steady to-and-fro of frozen fun, the trickle soon became a storm of ice. And not just front to back was this skirmish – you had a barrage coming in from both sides of our bay as well. When the ice ran out things just got hilarious. Plastic bottles, fruit, wrappers, BBQ chooks and empty cans. It was all going well and in good spirit until someone lined up a guy in the front row of the second deck with a Pie!! A PIE!!! Nailed him good, too.

Nobody actually saw the pie-chucker but as Dr Lager and I fell about laughing at this poor Kiwi supporters plight, Dr Lager turned to me and said; “Can’t believe I jobbed him from that far out!”
I should point out at this stage that in no way do I condone this sort of anti social behaviour, no matter how funny it is at the time. This stuff is inevitably funnier for some than for others.

Remember the bloke with the Esky earlier on? Well, in his lagered state he takes a while to catch up to what’s going on and just as the ammo is running out, the Police are moving in and things are starting to cool down, he turns and attempts a repeat of the hit on the now irate Kiwi supporter with the pie flavoured shirt, only to be politely escorted from the game. Karma is a funny thing sometimes.

Looking forward to sitting in front of the telly, sippin’ a couple of coldies and watchin’ the cricket while listening to Warnie carry on with some sort of guff or another and reminiscing about a gentler, more subdued era of cricket. That was around 1898. I wasn’t there. When I went to the cricket, we had real fun.

Prof. Pilsner

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