As Oscar Wilde never said, if there’s one thing that is almost as good as playing cricket, it’s talking about playing cricket. Indeed, it could be argued that we play better in our narratives than in the game itself. This, of course, would be a wild and unjustified accusation. It is true, however, that one of the great joys of cricket is the post-mortem, carried out, according to tradition, in a nearby hostelry or at the clubhouse. This forensic examination of the day’s play, which is relentlessly and punctiliously pedantic in sticking joylessly to those bare facts as corroborated by the multiple witnesses at hand, is a vital part of the process of a Saturday or Sunday. That it happens immediately after the stumps have been drawn and the scorebook copied up is in no way related to any domestic situation of the players. If anything, it serves to strengthen the understanding of the important passages of play in their minds before the return home to adoring and awestruck spouse and children simply desperate to hear news of the triumphs and tragedies as they came to pass upon the green fields of battle.
But all is not rosy. In fact, one simple fact is preventing the fully realised discussions of the day’s proceedings from reaching their zenith – beer is getting too strong. These discussions ought, indeed must, be lubricated by that most excellent of rehydration packages, the good old English pint (I actually overheard a conversation on the train the other day in which the words ‘French people aren’t used to drinking pints’ met with the reply ‘what do they drink, then?’ Answer came there none). I need not, I’m sure, explain the exact nutritional benefits afforded one by this elixir, nor the importance of the second pint to helping the conversation lasting long enough to fully explore the game’s nuances.
The problem, of course, is that most beer these days is that strong that even a pint puts you teetering on the limit, and what with fewer and fewer players hailing from the location of the team itself – my Saturday and Sunday teams boast a mere couple of residents each – the requisite two pints is rarely achievable. Yes, there is the whole designated driver thing but without beer you feel like a chauffeur, it’s just wrong.
That’s right: strong ale is killing cricket. You heard it here first.
There is, however, a solution. And a tasty one: small beer.
Small beer, a beer brewed to be 1-2% alcohol by volume, is what was generally drunk in England from lord knows when to Dickensian times. It took the place of water, because the process of brewing from malt involves boiling which kills off bacteria, and the alcohol itself is toxic to the same beasties. It’s made in several ways, either by fermenting at a higher temperature or by using the second runnings from the mash for a separate brew. Done right it’s as tasty as beer beer. It’s true, having a brewer as your lodger does have the odd advantage …
Bring back small beer, say I. Then the post-match commentary will be saved, and, let’s face it, we’ll bloody well win the next world cup.
Cheers, and Happy Christmas!