Great cricket drinking episodes, No. 1 – Headingley 1981

When searching around for a new topic for posts for this humble blog, we remembered the long association of cricket and alcohol. Being more sedentary than many sports, cricket has allowed many of its top players over the years to indulge heavily in the ‘sauce’, some more successfully than others. Perhaps only darts amongst the televised sporting panoply has a greater reputation for boozing, although the England rugby team have made a brave recent attempt to sneak onto the radar (dwarf tossing and all). So, in that spirit (no pun intended), we thought we’d look at some of the great moments in cricketing imbibing.

There is no better place to start than a certain I. T. Botham, whose exploits over the years are the stuff of legend. For instance, Viv Richards tells of the time when he and Beefy were on tour with their two-man show when, one evening in Sydney, Botham came across the noted wine connoisseur and television personality Keith Floyd. Botham arrived back at the hotel at 6am raving about Floyd. Richards, in his inimitable style, asked him what was so great about this new ‘mate’ Botham had found. ‘We finished twelve bottles of red between us!’ said Beefy.

However, the incident we wanted to look at is partly shrouded in mystery. For Botham’s finest hour was Headingley 1981, where his unbeaten ton on the fourth day, a Monday, set up Bob Willis to run through the Aussies with 8/43 the following day. That Monday followed a rest day on the Sunday. The only thing we know for sure is that on the Saturday evening (and well into the Sunday morning) a ‘barbecue extraordinare’ occurred at Botham’s pad in Epworth near Doncaster. Such rest-day parties were a regular occurrence back then – ‘what fun they were’, recalls Angus Fraser. Not everybody went – Geoffrey Boycott is on record as saying ‘I don’t go to parties in any shape or form when I’m playing for England’ – but the majority of players from both sides drove the 40 minutes or so from Leeds to Botham’s place that Saturday evening.

The situation in this Test meant a good party was just what was needed – England were down and out in the Test match, following on, already one wicket down, famously with odds of 500-1 against them, and everybody knew that Monday was just going to be a case of going through the motions. As you can imagine, for both sides this was something of an opportunity to let their hair down; for England it was a case of drowning sorrows; for Australia having a skinful to celebrate inevitable victory on Monday. England ‘weren’t really expecting to get out of the hole we were in’ recalled David Gower. ‘Everybody was totally relaxed’ was the way Kath Botham (Ian’s wife) summed up the mood.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that by all accounts epic quantities of booze were consumed. Peter Willey describes it as ‘a very good night’. There were ‘enormous amounts to drink’ and ‘various kegs of real ale available’ according to Gower. Bob Willis, the master of the dry understatement, called the party ‘convivial’ (although that’s not as much of an understatement as Kath Botham recalling people having ‘a few glasses of wine… and things’). In fact it was so ‘convivial’ that it ended up with a woman of advancing years being pushed around in a wheelbarrow, someone (possibly the same woman) falling out of the same wheelbarrow and, no doubt, other drunken wheelbarrow-related activities. As if they weren’t tired enough from a hard day’s Test cricket, at one stage most of the players from both sides engaged in a rugby scrum on the lawn. Further details about exactly what went on that evening are unsurprisingly hazy. As Gower put it, ‘it was one of those parties where if you can remember it you weren’t really taking part in it properly’.

Beefy apparently continued drinking until 4am on Sunday even though the Aussies had called it a night and returned to the hotel at midnight. Botham himself only admits to ‘a relaxing evening and a few drinks’, although we’re not sure how accurate his mathematics is, given that Wayne Larkins states that ‘most of us couldn’t even remember where we flaked out’. The hangovers the following day were, by all accounts, biblical. Graeme Dilley, splitting headache and all, nearly drove a borrowed quadbike into a ditch; most of the players enjoyed a restorative Sunday lunch (with a couple of pints, naturally) and extensive afternoon naps before trekking back to Leeds.

Now comes the bit where we step into the realms of speculation. How much of an effect did this mother-of-all-knees-ups have on Monday’s cricket? Was everyone fighting fit again that morning? There must, surely, following such a bender, have been the odd player who was suffering from that most miserable of ailments, the two-day hangover. Is it at all possible (and we have to be very careful where we tread here) that Botham had another good night on the Sunday? History doesn’t relate. But anyway, let’s look at the facts of that fourth day: Mike Brearley nicked off to slip early on; David Gower scratched around for half an hour on nought, then hit nine off an over and promptly got out; Mike Gatting nearly fell over and was out LBW. Only Geoff Boycott (who, remember, had been a notable absentee at the Beefy Bash) stuck around. Gower’s innings in particular was slightly reminiscent of a man who still had a bit of a fuggy head.

When Botham strode to the crease, he looked a bit hungover, but then Beefy always looked a bit hungover, so we can’t draw anything from that. Graeme Dilley soon joined him and Botham is reported to have said ‘Let’s have some fun’. Whether this was because there was nothing to lose or because both were still feeling the worse for wear and thought slogging was the only tonic, we’ll never know (unless we’re told). Certainly Botham’s batting looked like that of a man whose faculties were not up to hours of brow-furrowed concentration. Several edges through or over the slips, punctuated with some shots which would require agricultural nomenclature to describe, and the rest was history. A great innings, yes, but hardly a classically trained sort of knock.

We should reiterate that we don’t know whether any of this last bit is true. It’s merely the musings of a simple blogger. So put those lawyers away, Mr Botham. But it’d be even more legendary if it was. Whatever happened that Monday, what we do know is that the barbecue on the Saturday is well worthy of its place as a ‘Great cricket drinking episode’.

Next time, David Boon takes a flight from Sydney to London.


Rob Steen & Alastair McLellan, 500-1: The Miracle of Headingley ’81

Viv Richards, Sir Vivian

Ian Botham, Head On: The Autobiography

Angus Fraser, ‘Great Sporting Moments’, The Independent, 14th July 2009

Bob Willis, ‘My career was hanging by a thread. That’s motivation’, The Independent, 18th July 2011

Bob Willis, ‘It was the miracle of Headingley’, Yorkshire Evening Post, 30th June 2009

Robin Scott-Elliot, ‘How Beefy used Operation BBQ to rescue English spirits’, The Independent, 25th July 2011

Paul Coupar, ‘The rest is history’, The Wisden Cricketer, April 2007

David Gower, ‘So Long Beefy’, Wisden Cricket Monthly, Summer 1993

BBC Sport, 1981 Ashes Review, date unknown

Botham: The Legend of ’81, BBC Two, July 2011.


Other Great cricket drinking episodes:

No 2 – David Boon’s half-century

No 3 – The Ashes 2005

2013 Roundup

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  1. Great Cricket Drinking Episodes – No. 3: The Ashes 2005 « Two Grumpy England Cricket Fans
  2. Great cricket drinking episodes, No 2 – David Boon smashes 52 not out in a session | Two Grumpy England Cricket Fans
  3. Great Cricket Drinking Episodes: 2013 round-up | Two Grumpy England Cricket Fans

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