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The truth behind David Boon's 52 tinnies on the flight from Australia to England in the Ashes

The truth behind David Boon's 52 tinnies on the flight from Australia to England in the Ashes

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  • 1. Il sports love a statistic but none more-than the Still,a seed had beenplanted.Wordpassed aroundbeforethe team summergame.Numbers averages asimportant and are left for the 1977 Ashestour that the Walters.Marsh drinking experiment to cricketasbatandball.Records standlike Himalayan had escalatedinto a full-blown competition. Players,management peaks,pointed remindersto those in thefoo.thills of and journalists were invited to join in. A quarter of a century later, the heights that othershaveclimbed: Don Bradman's memories are a little clouded by time and the passingof brain cells, 99.94,MatthewHayden's380,CourtneyWalsh's519. but The Weekend ,ustralian Magazinehas interviewed many of the Cricketers and cricket tragics knowthe significance people who made the trip in an effort to sort fact from folklore. of these numbers and the circumstances in which Rules were drawn up, wagerswere laid and the drinking began. they wereachieved. manyyears, For therewasanother Only alcohol consumed in-flight was counted, so anything sunk in figure that taunted Australiancricketers -Doug Walters's44. the transit lounge was,effectively,a dead ball. Competitors scored The score can be traced back to Australia's Caribbean tour of one point for a beer,wine or mixed drink, althoughwine drinkerswere 1973.Ian Chappell's teamhad spentthree months compiling a hard. lookedupon with greatsuspicionbythe egalitarian Austmlians.In fact, fought two-nil series victory overthe WestIndies. Waltershad had nobodyremember:; wine drinker in the competition:T'he teamwas ~ a fine summer,averaging71 with the bat, knocking up two 100sand in a bullishmood,.having beatenthe Pomsin the CentenaryTestthree tbree 50s,and bagging 5-66in one outing with the ball. The boy from months earlier, while the gameitselfwasaboutto be shaken the rise by Pungog was already a legend in Australian sport, as much for his of World SeriesCricket and would soonneed a stiff drink of its of ciggies,boozeand horses for his swashbuckling as cricket. His Leg spinner Kerry O'Keeffe, now an ABC commentator, incorp- mate Rod Marsh had alsodone well in the Tests, gloving 17catches oratesthe story into his public speakingroutines. He saysbets were behind the stumps and averaginga healthy49.5 with the bat. taken on everyone except one team manager."Youwere allowed to The pair were looking forward to getting home, and while the back yourself, but he drank 24 hours a dayand nobodyacceptedhis flight wasn't particularly comfortable -players travelled economy in wageron himself," I)'Keeffe recalls. While he is shakyon somedetails, tbosedays -at leastthe beerwasfree.Big drinkersboth,they'd worked he doesrememberthat the field waswell spreadevenon the first leg. upa murderous thirst under the Caribbeansun. Waltersremembers "Kim Hughes was;1runaway leaderearly.He'd had six spirits when Marsh turning to him and asking: "How many cans do you think most of us were on three cans of beer,but shallwe say,hedidn't stay we'll have before we get to Sydney?" the course." Walters,playing tortoise to the young hare,also recalls "That's where it all started," Waltersrecalls."I said 'twenty-five'. the baby.faced WestAustralianbatsman stealingabreak."I remember He said, 'It's a 3D-hourflight -we'll have 35:" The pair set about Kim beinginvolvedand he said'doesit haveto be beer?' I said 'you and testing this new method of measuringdistance but encountered a can drink whateveryou like', and he drank rum and something -not seriousproblem. "They ran out of beer,"Walters says. had to count "We rum and Coke, but rum and ginger or somethinglike that. But he'd spiritsand all sortsof things and I don't knowwhatthe final tally was." had quite a heapto Singaporeand I don't think he had another drink STORY PETER LALOR PHOTOGRAPHY NICK CUBBIN ILLUSTRATIONS ERIC LOB BECKE III . The Weekend Australian Magazine 16 December 20 -21 2003
  • 2. for three weeks on that tour." and acouple of unofficial palate manageda half-century in each of the first two Tests Hughes, just 19 at the time, cleansersduring the stopovers. but came away with an averageof only 25, and the admits with good humour that "He was all right -just," says Australians flew home with tails between their legs he might have misjudged his O'Keeffe. "He waslighting cig- having been thumped three-nil. KJimHughes debuted run. "I wasa young bull in those arettesfilter-first. I guessthat's in the final Test but made only one run. days, It was my first major tour all right. Youcando that sober." away for the team and I didn't Marsh's score is a mystery. CRICKETIS A SLOW GAME THAT REWARDS PATIENCE, seeSingaporebecauseI got out Dennis Lillee, who had injured and so it was that Rodney Marsh returned to Australia of the gates early and got my his back in the Centenary Te,t nurturing a grudge, but knowing that his time would total to llor 12brandyand dries, and wasnot on that tour, recalls come. He was six years waiting.l11e 'keeper has kept and collapsed in a heap. the wicketkeeper claiming he his silence on the 1983 flight to Li:>ndon, but his good "You got a point for a full had gone can-for-can with mate Lillee has recorded it -t,.ice -in his auto- beer or the spirits in the little Walters.Sadlyfor Marsh,no-one biographies. In 1984's Over and Out, Lillee says that bottles. I wasnevera beerdrinker recognises his efforts, and it "second best was not good enou~ for Rodney", who soI startedwith alittle suggestion wasWalters-the boyburdened announced to his team-mates well before they left for of brandy and a fair bit of dry, in 1965 with the mantle "tbe the World Cup that he was going to beat 44. and pretty quickly it was all next Don Bradman" -who Surprisingly, the fast bowler decided to sabotage the brandy and no dry, and that was claimed a title that has defined attempt. "I didn't want him watching the World Cup why I didn't seeSingapore.But his years in cricket more than series on television in the dryini-Dut ward of some I was leading the pack by a any particular innings or serie,. London hospital," Lillee writes. Rather than try to substantial amount for a very Even now he is asked more convince Marsh of the benefits of moderation, Lillee short period of time," about the 44 cans than his used the wiles that made him a great bowler long after Hughes regainedconscious- famous 100 at Perth, a ton his pace had left him. He started egging on Marsh to nesswhile approachingEngland notched up in a single session drink before they left Perth to join the team in Sydney. to find he was not the only and crowned with a six off the They stopped off in Melbourne for a few more at a casualty."I suppose I shouldn't last ball. "If it's not the fir:;t Qantas cocktail party, then flew north and hit the town. mention his name because it question I'm asked, it's the Lillee sacrificed his own health to save his mate's and wasn't very flattering and he second," Walters says.Does it despite a roaring hangover he pushed Marsh to have was an older bloke," the future bother him? "Not really. I enjoy three shaky schooners at the airport next morning. But captain recalls. "He was about life, mate. I think you're deada it wasn't enough to stop the dete£$ined Sandgroper. 60 and he had his blazer on, but long while -that's what I was The Australian cricket team had taken on a more he was on the aisle seatand he told and 1 haven't seen any professional air by 1983 and a lot of planning went into was asleepand he had his false proof of that not being righL' the record attempt. Somebody worked out that it was teeth hanging out with saliva Of course, no in-flight a 24-hour flight with three legs -Sydney-Singapore, dripping out from the teeth drinking record is complete Singapore-Bahrain, Bahrain-London. Marsh would onto the emblem on his pocket. without a successfulre-entrv. have to consume 15 cans a leg. Lillee didn't think Mate, it wasn't a great sigi;lt."It All witnesses report that Walters Marsh had a hope, but the little wicketkeeper hopped was a member of the manage- and company were drunk, but into it, warning the hostess of "his intentions the ment -the one they wouldn't did not disgrace themselves. "~'e moment they sat down. "You drink them, I'll bring let bet on himself. visitedthe bar when we arrived, them," she reportedly replied. Raising the bar (from top): Doug 'Nalters Greg Chappell, Australia's I think," saysWalters. "We had (left, with David Colley), 44 cans; Rodney Fast bowler Geoff Lawson was part of the team straight-backedcaptain, tries to a press reception at the hob:l Marsh, 45; and current record holder despite the fact he did not drink. ~I have a fairly clear downplaythe competition as"a David Boon (right. with Merv Hugl"es). 52 .when we arrived there." They recollection about it," he says."The announcement was " bit of fun that has probablybeen did, and memoriesof the Aust- made before we got to the airport. I was the official blown out of proportion over the years':The health- ralians' performance vary widely. "I've got to say tmit scorer. I wrote down the brand and the size on the back conscious vegetarian admits he "had a few" until the pressconference,with F1eetStreet hovering, was of a sick bag." Lawson confirms Marsh had three at Singaporebut then decided, wisely,to sleep.Walters pathetic," saysO'Keeffe. "It was not the best pre!s Sydney airport. "He said that you warm up before you and Marsh kept drinking and drinking. And drinking. conference held, not with the inebriation that was play, so you've got to warm up ~fore one of these This wasanother time, of course-long before the around, but they didn't pick up on it too much." things, and he had a couple more inlSingapore and they team had fitness advisersor dietary consultants, an Veteran cricket writer Alan Shiell, who thinks he weren't counted either." Lawson has another remarkable epoch of hairy chests and walrus moustaches perm- tallied 38canson the flight, recallsarriving in London. revelation: "Marshy slept from Singapore to Bahrain anently wet with beer. Neither the players,airline staff "I know Marshy andDoug werepretty much the worse -he slept the whole leg." nor the generalpublic had heardthe words"responsible for wear at the pressconference at the Waldorf late Lillee contradicts this and says,it was he who slept that morning. Wehad some big nights on that trip - service of alcohol", and it is a measureof just how far from Singapore to Bahrain, "and tdmy honor I awoke in-flight service has slipped that no player can recall you're talking about someexceptionalcharactersand to find Rodney draining the drops of can No 30". The a problem with getting adrink. "You wouldn't get that service on a plane now," Walterslaughs. "Then, every time they walked past Marshyand I they dropped four cans on our thing [servicetray]. They were probably the instigators more so than us," O'Keeffe wavedthe white flag at Bahrain,realising he could not keep up with Marsh or Walters. "Doug some exceptional drinkers in Marshy and Dougie.' fast bowler says Graeme Wood W'1S the official scorer dropped back in the pack, knowing he could go the Hughes remembers arriving. "I had sobered up and and Marsh slept only during tbe stopover. Wood journey," O'Keeffe says, "He just ground them down," we were being introduced at the Waldorf and everyone confirms he was the scorer, perh4ps with help from Walters confirms this tactic. "I'm a sipper," he says. was pretty excited, but we had to hide Walters and Marsfl Lawson, and saysMarsh kept drinking throughout the "I can sip all day and it doesn't havea great effect, but because they had just kept going. We could hear during flight except for two 20-minute naps. Lawson remem- I can't put 'em down at a hundred miles an hour. I'm the introductions 'Hear hear, Chappell', and it was Marsfl bers that, to make the trip more comfortable, the not a fast drinker." He does,however,admit to being and Walters up the back, still having a quiet beer. e pace-setters and the scorer moved from their seats. a "reasonably"big drinker. tried to keep them quiet, but they made the odd noise' "In '83 -I'm pretty sure it was '83 -we actually went As the plane arrived in London, Waltersraisedhis And how did Walters perform on tour? "I977? It downstairs in the plane. We got in the service lift and 44th can to his lips and drained it asthough it were his was my worst. Oh, no it wasn't -'72 was my worst. Well, went down into the cargo hold. I C'1Pdistinctly remem- fourth. From all accounts, he wasn't in bad shape - I didn't have any real good tours of England anyway.' ber Rod drinking there. It was like la storeroom and we not if you considerhe'd had 44 beers at high altitude Well, none that he remembers. In fact, Walters were surrounded by beer, and YoU just had to reach t> The Weekend Australian Magazine 18 December 20 -21 2003
  • 3. out and grab 'em from the shelf, basically. much." Victorian fast bowler Merv Hughes I remember because the roof of it was six is initially reluctant to talk. "I won't mention foot tall and, with me being six foot four any names," he says eventually, confirming [198cm], I couldn't quite stand up." he was among the party of four or five who By this stage, the whole plane was aware retired to the galley while the rest of the of what was happening courtesy of an plane slept. announcement by the captain -a point It is the Victorian batsman Dean Jones confirmed by Lawson and Lillee, although who speaks most canaidly about the 1989 everybody is keen to point out that this was flight. It was Jones's first tour and his father "a quiet drink" between mates. "It wasn't a had advised him to sitnext to the opener to big deal," says Lawson. "I think if anything pick up hints on batting in England. "Boonie had got out of control, a lot of people would had plenty of advice for me as we had just have disapproved, but it never did, you know. left Singapore and we ,had just finished our There was no rowdiness or anything. It was 22nd can of beer," Jones writes for the just a quiet drink and a chat, you know." Australian Paper Web site. He went upstairs Marsh's 43rd beer coincided with the andfellasleep,waking~aterto"tumultuous" plane banking on its approach to London. applause. Simpson thought somebody had "I swear to this day I could see beer about to won a card game until the plane's captain spill over his bottom teeth onto the floor," announced Boon had consumed 52 beers. Lillee records. The 'keeper drained his 43rd "Simpson went purple with anger and and sipped painfully at his 44th, equalling I mentioned to [selector Laurie] Sawle that the Walters record. Then he gurgled a maybe Boonie should be sent home and surprising announcement: "I can't make it." I would bat in his spot," Jones recalls. This was a time for mates to stand together. It's a record Boon has never claimed, but Lillee remembers them giving Marsh a word Lawson confirms the; score and says with of encouragement -"Bullshit!" great regret that he wishes he had rescued "The challenge had by now assumed the the sick bags from the plane. "They would significance of winning an Ashes series," have been worth a fort9ne," he laments. "You Lilleewrites. "There would be no capitulation. can imagine Tony Gr.ig selling replicas of We tilted Rodney's head back and literally them summer after su~mer after summer." force-fed him." And so the bar was raised, Lawson and Jones $ay Boon walked from but not without some difficulties. Lillee says the plane unaided. Mercifully, Boon was not Marsh was "history. Drunk as a monkey. Full asked a question at the press conference. as a fowl". The fast bowler and Wood had to Taylor recalls Simpson getting stuck into the put him in team uniform and load him on team about the flight. "When we got off the to a luggage trolley to get him to customs. bus, Boonie was in qui,e a bit of trouble with Wood says Marsh wisely gave the press con- Simmo, who was disal1lpointed with him for ference a wide berth. Photographs taken at Boon celebrates modestly after Australia regains the Ashes on the 1989 tour. drinking so much, and he called us into a the airport appeared in the next day's papers team meeting and said, 'Righto, a couple of with the headline, according to Lillee: "Marsh attempts was not the sort of fellow who would look kindly on things: David, I'm very disapp6inted with you and record ...and takes two of his mates with him". The beer drinking competitions. Nor could the team be you're on probation, but also I dQn't want this story to bowler felt cheated -he hadn't had a beer since leave this room. It's not to leave the Australian cricket especially confident about the tour. It had been beaten Singapore. Marsh complained of terrible jetlag and did 3:1 at home by the West Indies over summer and lost team: And Merv Hughes at the~ack put his hand up not front for training the next day. the previous two Ashes series, earning itself a repu- and said, 'Oh, Bob, I'm sorry mate, I've done radio Lawson says Marsh and Walters were big drinkers interviews with... ' and he namdd four or five stations tation as the "worst team ever. to tour the old country. who never disgraced themselves. "I've known Doug Perhaps that's why they decided to get in early -to )~ut he'd done interviews with, and said, 'Mate, it's all over Walters and Rod Marsh along time, and I've seen them a trophy on the shelf before a ball was bowled in anger. the world: Everyone started laughing and I think Merv at all hours of the day and night, and I've rarely seen Whatever the reason, it is claimed in certain circ:les got put on probation along with Boonie." them pissed, despite their reputations as drinkers. They that David Boon, the nuggetty Tasmanian opener Hughesconfirrnstheincident, with variations. "I told just didn't get pissed -it was that simple. Apart from aradio station I worked for that we had already knocked with a similar physique to Rod Marsh, set out with Rod being pissed after the 45th one, I don't recall ever the intention of breaking 45 cans. Boon refuses to up the first 50 of the tour," he says. "I got into more seeing those guys pissed, and they drank a lot of beer. trouble than the protagonist. I was shitting myself that confirm this. "Never spoke about it, never will,. he tells And it didn't affect their cricket, either." Well, nobody The WeekendAustralian Magazine. Maybe it was a mass I would be sent home -it was myrrst tour and I was on my last chance the moment we ~ched the first hotel." Jones went to bed to sleep oft his hangover but was called to the foyer by the concie!:ge, who asked him to pick up his sleeping room-mate, :toon, who went on to average 55 on that tour. Australi4 reclaimed the Ashes and has not relinquished them si~e. Nor, despite many is blaming the drink, but Australiawereterrible in the hallucination, but some people on that flight re,::all a bold attempt, has anybody man;jged to beat Boon's 52. Over the years the odd non-cricketer has attempted World Cup, losing their first gameto Zimbabwe,their a man who looked like Boon drinking a lot of bel~r. to break the record. There ha* been unconfirmed Lawson sayshe was scoring, and in this case nob.Jdy second to the West Indies and fourth to India. They reports that former Olympic swi~mer Neil Brooks beat came home boasting one win, which was against begs to differ. He also remembers a different toru~ to it. Nothing has been verified. O~the recent Kangaroos the Boon assault. "Nobody accompanied Boonie; he Zimbabwe in the return match of the pool. tour several rugby league player~ attempted it but fell says. "We were all a bit more sensible. There werl~n't pathetically short; Sydney Roos~er Mick Croker top- too many big drinkers in the team then. 1 think the AND SO TO THE INFAMOUS TWILIGHT ZONE FLIGHT scored with 36 cans. The victoriops English World Cup culture of the '70s changed through the '80s." of 1989 and a record many say will never be beaten. rugby squad is also rumoured to have had a crack, with There were in fact three or four others involved, but The mystery arises from the fact that the holder of the hulking centre Mike Tindall co~ing close to 50 caris. more in a spirit of companionship than competitJ.on. title denies the attempt took place. The Australian "You can rest assured David 'oon's record is still Mark Taylor, a captain in the making, says he had "a team was led by the earnest Allan Border, known to his standing," Tindall's centre partnet. Will Greenwood, said few beers with them along the way" but was not there charges as C~ptain Grumpy, with the fanatical Bob later. "Tinds had a real go at it, ~t we wanted to leave at the end: "I enjoy a beer, there's no doubt about that, Simpson at his right hand. Simmo, who introduced the the Aussies with at least one title to hang on to." e but I don't think 1 can drink anywhere near that modem obsession with fitness to the Australian team, The Weekend Australian Magazine 20 December 20 -21 2DO::