England’s recent ICC Cricket World Cup Final thrilling victory over New Zealand will live long in the memory – even if you don’t like cricket. Not since the third Ashes test at Edgbaston back in 2005 has the nation sat around the telly and watched such a tense, nail-biting finale.
In terms of recruiting new fans to the one-day game, it simply couldn’t have been more effective. If the final can’t convince kids to pick up a cricket bat and give it a go then, quite frankly, nothing will. But, let’s face it, if you’re a true fan of the sport then the 50-over form of the game – deliberately designed to attract a consumer whose collective attention spans are shrinking like a crisp packet in a pub fire – remains inferior to the red-ball, five day version.
Purists don’t like it much. Players in brightly coloured pyjamas, the disco music, the ‘organised fun’, the fans zones and the fireworks, the digital high-five machines and the relentless, gormless tonking of balls for sixes and fours is, for many, simply not cricket.
The Ashes is cricket. It’s the pinnacle of Test Match cricket, and test match cricket is the true cricket fan’s cricket. At a time where delayed gratification has been usurped by a constant consumer craving for instant digital-driven dopamine hits, Test Cricket is a refreshing reminder that good things come to those wait – or better still, that after five days of exquisite boredom, nothing conclusive may happen at all.
Even better still, few other sports lend themselves more acutely to leisurely drinking than Test Match cricket. The laws of cricket were refined and finessed in a pub – the Star & Garter pub in Mayfair back in 1777 and if you’ve ever tried to explain cricket to a foreign friend, that’ll come as no surprise.
The laws of cricket are certainly not the work of a sober mind sitting in a Starbucks.
Given Test Match cricket’s disposition for discerning drinking and with the Ashes, sport’s greatest rivalry, soon upon us, we’ve chosen four drinks from both UK and Australia to enjoy during the five-test series.
We’ve given each drink a score out of ten, added them all together and declared a winner. It will, of course, be England. Why? Well, just like cricket, we invented this game so we make the rules. And what are the Aussies going to do – accuse us of cheating? Rack off Bouncer!
England: Tetley’s No.3 Pale Ale, 4.2%, 500ml (£1.80 from ASDA)
If the 50-over game is the craft version of cricket, then surely test cricket is to be enjoyed with a sepia-tinted sip of yesteryear. We’re going for Tetley’s No.3 Pale Ale, brewed just down the road from Headingley cricket ground (where it’s served) as a resuscitation of a classic pale ale recipe dating back to 1868.
Amid all the smash, bang, wallop of ‘New World’ IPAs and pale ales, it’s a classic beautifully balanced beer with three hops from the Kent countryside (be careful saying that after you’ve had a few), and Tetley’s iconic double yeast strain which adorns the beer with that lovely texture.
What’s more, its old-school retro red and yellow label also shares the ‘egg and bacon’ colours of the iconic MCC tie, worn by traditionalist members with little time for the frivolities of 50 over cricket.
Australia: Little Creatures Dog Days Session Ale 4.4%, 440ml (£2 from Majestic)
Michael Jackson, the legendary beer writer, once famously claimed “the more macho, muscular and tanned a society, the blander its beers. See Australia”.
Like all clichés you’ll find no small amount of truth in this one and, traditionally, the market leading beers of Australia have been light lagers not overly furnished with complex flavours but great for rolling across your head after a long day of flaming galahs, driving UHTs about, cross-examining dingoes, putting various food stuffs on the grill of a BBQ and wearing flip-flops…in Winter.
The Little Creatures Brewery from Freemantle, and now with an English outpost in London’s Kings Cross, is principally renowned for its flagship pale ale but try the Dog Days Session Ale, an absurdly drinkable drop brewed with a trio of aromatic American hops. Grapefruit, tropical fruit and lychee are the kind of things you should be saying if you want to impress/bore your friends. And it comes in a ‘tinny’ which chills the beer quicker. The link to cricket? Well dogs have got four short legs and a wagging tail. You’re welcome.
England: Nicholson Gin, 40.3%, 70cl (£33.45 from whiskyexchange.com)
The Gin and Tonic – as quintessentially English as cucumber sandwiches, a lovely cuppa splosh and, of course, cricket. So, when the teams break for Tea, pour yourself this upstanding English gin whose history is intertwined with Lord’s, the “home of cricket”.
The Nicholson family were one of the distilling dynasties that dragged gin out of the disaster that was the 18thCentury Gin Craze – during which time every man, women and child was guzzling a pint of gin a week.
By the middle of the 19thCentury, the Nicholsons were serious players in London’s burgeoning scene, and the business was being run by William Jr. William was an impressive all-rounder who, as well as running the distillery, was a High Sherriff, a Member of Parliament (on two separate occasions) and, crucially, a first class cricketer.
A highly revered right-handed batsman and a wicket-keeper, he played nearly 150 first-class appearances from 1845 to 1869, mostly for Marylebone Cricket Club at Lord’s Cricket Ground. What’s more, when Lord’s found itself in financial strife and unable to buy its own freehold in 1866, William Jr leant them the money – thus securing the future of not only the club, but also the “home of cricket” for future generations.
He also paid for the Lord’s Pavilion which, when it was first built, was known amongst members as “The Gin Palace” and, legend has it, the reason the MCC members sport the iconic “egg and bacon” tie is because these were – and still are – the colours that adorn the Nicholson’s gin bottle.
Having disappeared for a while, life was breathed back into the historical brand two years ago and the recipe remains unashamedly traditional and classic. With little time for the kind of unusual and ‘ker-azeee’ botanicals beloved of new wave gins, Nicholsons is a quintessential London Dry with a strong juniper presence and a fidelity to the past.
Australia Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz, 37.8%, 70cl. (£40.95 from whiskyexchange.com)
Stepping out to bat for the Aussies is the quite phenomenal, dark-red Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin from the Yarra Valley. Every year, they take some Yarra Valley Shiraz grapes and steep them in their flagship Four Pillars Rare Dry gin for eight weeks – then the fruit is pressed before blending it with more Rare Dry Gin.
Ruby in hue, turning pink when lengthened with tonic, it’s beautifully balanced with the piney notes from the juniper coming through. There’s nothing average about the rest of the botanical batting line up either; Lavender, Cardamom and Cinnamon all playing high up the aromatic order alongside the confident shout of Tasmanian pepperberry and Shiraz grapes.
But what stretches this unique gin beyond the boundaries of lesser, more straight-bat gins is the use of column and pot stills really which rounds off any unwanted edges…just like, say, sandpaper… for example.
England: Bolney Foxhole Pinot Noir, 11.5%, 75cl, (£16.00 from Waitrose.com)
Until relatively recently, the idea of pairing English still wines against those of Australia would have been, like a fielder standing very close to the batsman, Silly.
But thanks to a scorching summer in 2018, red grapes reached record ripeness and with both hands, England’s winemakers have grasped the opportunity to prove that they can produce more than just sparkling wines.
This Pinot Noir from Sussex, where England’s rising star Jofra Archer plies his trade, is a lovely light yet rounded red full of fresh berry fruit, some textured tannin in there and mellow herbaceous notes too.
Australia: Jim Barry Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Coonawarra, 12%, 75cl, (£8.98 from Majestic.com)
The late, great Jim Barry is an Australian winemaking legend whose drive established Clare Valley in Southern Australia has one of the country’s leading wine regions.
The winery that bears his name makes some superb stuff including this deep ruby red Cabernet Sauvignon named in commemoration of the Penola cricket ground, from where the grapes are now sourced.
It’s a classic Cabernet with notes of berry compote, dark cherry and full-on floral character. A lively, juicy palate with fine tannins and a rich, rounded finish.
England: Balfour Hush Heath Estate Bacchus, 12%, 75cl, (£20.00 from Hush Heath)
Aromatic and adorned with just the right amount of acidity, Bacchus is a grape variety that is being used rather deftly by English winemakers – especially this Kent producer with whom Ian Botham will soon be collaborating.
Hush Heath Estate, renowned primarily for its pink fizz and home to the Balfour brand, makes this wonderfully well-balanced white that brings lychee, orchard fruit and lemongrass with some mellow acidity. Perfect with seafood – especially calamari, the famed favourite combination of the late cricket commentator Tony Greig.
Australia: 2017 Sir Ian Botham Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills, Australia, 12.5%, (£42.50 from Berry Bros & Rudd)
Sir Ian “Beefy” Botham, once the scourge of Australian cricket, is a well-known wine lover and launched a range of Australian wines last year using grapes from all over the country. Matured in an even split of aged and seasoned oak, this is a well-pitched crisp wine with a bit of oak in there, pear, lychee and, as you’d expect from the former England all-rounder, some herbal notes too. There’s a slight brine-y note on the finish as well – reminiscent of the crocodile tears of a disgraced batsman in a global press conference.
Result: England: 33. Australia 33.
A draw but England win via the McFarland-Sandham Method.
The Thinking Drinkers are award-wining drinks experts Ben McFarland & Tom Sandham. They are performing their acclaimed comedy show “Heroes of Hooch”, which includes five complimentary drinks, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the Underbelly. You can buy tickets by clicking here.