A skinful of Ian Botham fills Derek Pringle’s excellent grog-filled memoir

first_imgShare on Pinterest The Spin this week is a book review of sorts but one that coincides with an anniversary too, being as it is a year to the day since England’s male cricketers were given a midnight curfew that has been in place ever since.It was 27 November 2017, the last rites of an opening defeat in the Ashes at the Gabba, when Andrew Strauss, then director of England cricket, felt moved to act in response to overnight reports of Jonny Bairstow having “head-butted” Australia’s Cameron Bancroft at a Perth nightspot four weeks earlier. Support The Guardian Share on Twitter The Spin: sign up and get our weekly cricket email. England and Essex’s Derek Pringle with his hand-made size 12 boots which had holes cut in them to prevent damage to his toes. Photograph: PA Pinterest Topics That this turned out to be a laddish (but admittedly unusual) greeting mattered little to the Australians, who were seemingly keen their opponents suffered an off-field short ball to the ribs too; the story’s timing felt conveniently optimal for the hosts but the context was kept minimal, touching the rawest of English nerves at the time given Ben Stokes was parked up at home following September’s incident in Bristol.After a slightly excruciating laugh-a-minute post-match press conference from Bancroft and his captain, Steve Smith (the sequel of which in Cape Town had greater ramifications), England’s doomed Ashes defence then became in part a battle against a perception of their being a boozy bunch. Things were scarcely helped when the curfew was relaxed for one night later in the tour, only for Ben Duckett of the Lions to tip a drink over Jimmy Anderson at the very same Perth bar, prompting a frenzied evacuation of players by the team’s security. Pinterest England 3-0 Sri Lanka: player ratings for the victorious visitors Pinterest Facebook Reuse this content Read more Summer cricket here at lastThe county fixtures for 2019 are out (and will be here eventually) and while this particular author of The Spin is still feeling sheepish about last summer’s predictions (Lancashire, tipped as title winners, begin life in Division Two) this news remains a source of winter excitement on a cold November day.Subject to sign-off by the ECB, next season will see only one team relegated from Division One and three sides coming up, creating a top flight of 10 for 2020 (albeit an asymmetrical one, given not every team will play each other twice). Surrey will begin their title defence at home to Essex in the second round of matches.Another change sees the Royal London Cup moved to the front end of the season following a couple of rounds of the championship in April. It will be all be wrapped up by 25 May when the final is held at Lord’s for the last time, before its switch to Trent Bridge from 2020 onwards.If that competition seems a bit rushed – and bear in mind the World Cup, starting 30 May, is a factor – then the upshot is that seven rounds of championship cricket will take place in June and July. Not every match will require scarves and bobble hats. Hooray! Twitter The Spin That string of events – one which jumped the shark when a myopic local reporter asked Moeen Ali, of all people, whether it was time he and his mates ditched the pub – came to mind while The Spin was reading Derek Pringle’s recently published Pushing the Boundaries: Cricket in the Eighties. It is a memoir as rich as the prized Chateau Latour 61 its author shares with Ian Botham over an early-hours plate of eggs, sausage and bacon (following a day of county cricket, a skinful of ale “and a few spliffs”, naturally) although its alcohol content by way of percentage feels greater.Over the course of 400-odd pages, Pringle gives an eye-popping and often hilarious account of an era that runs from his university days through to the oh-so-close 1992 World Cup and is as doused as a strong sherry trifle. Needless to say Botham, who commandeers the author for some nerve-settling ales on the eve of his surprise Test debut in 1982, only for this tactic to backfire, is central.The magnetism of England’s legendary all-rounder brings famous faces like Eric Clapton and Elton John into the fray but Botham still steals every scene he enters bar one: a sport-and-celebrity jaunt to La Manga for his benefit year in 1984, where his friend, the comedian Peter Cook, goes full Withnail during five days on the grog.Botham, placed above his all-round peers of the time by Pringle given “he was not just up against his opponents but his own rebel self”, is not alone when it comes to unorthodox match preparation and an aversion to sleep: taking the field after a night on the turps appears to be par for the course for a number of players. Share on Messenger Derek Pringle raises a cup, alongside Nasser Hussain, as Essex celebrate winning the County Championship in 1991. Photograph: Offside/Getty Images Twitter Though the link is not made, Pringle’s descriptions of facing a West Indies’ attack who routinely pummelled England, and the many overseas quicks who were then a weekly feature of batting in the County Championship, left The Spin wondering if the drink-heavy off-field activities were not just a result of relative freedoms in the pre-coaching staff era but in part to gird loins for the impending on-field menace.While not threatening the “new Botham” tag he was saddled with early on, Pringle’s career brought him more than 1,000 professional wickets, saw him dip in and out of the England team over 11 years (the chaos of which is summed up by a summer of four captains in 1988) and brought him five titles at Essex. As someone who is self-deprecating, curious beyond the confines of cricket and an experienced journalist in his second career, he makes an excellent witness.And though Allan Lamb’s approach to air travel and various “rest days” produce comedy gold, not every tale in his trove prompts the liver to twitch. There is admiration for Essex greats such as JK Lever, Graham Gooch and Keith Fletcher (as well as chapters on their domestic dominance), insightful analysis of the cricket played, plus the odd touching moment, such as when Derek Randall opts for a new-fangled video camera as his freebie from the tour sponsor JVC so his wife can film the offspring whose childhoods he will miss.But drink is never far from lips during this final decade before the on-tour backroom staff swelled beyond simply a scorer, a masseur and a team manager. Over the course of the book only one attempt is made by the latter to curb the excess: a midnight curfew and the threat of a £1,000 fine for the England players who, with Botham as their ice-cream-and-whisky-guzzling ringmaster, had been living it up during a wild 1982-83 Ashes tour.While the current generation have kept to their equivalent over the past 12 months (albeit reports from the end of their tour to Sri Lanka are yet to filter back to The Spin), needless to say their predecessors saw fit to ignore the diktat and the subject dies a death. Instead, just a couple of days later, Pringle and co walk out into the cauldron of the MCG on Boxing Day sitting 2-0 down, their hangovers from a lively Christmas “still pulsing”. Share via Email features Share on LinkedIn Ian Botham Cricket Facebook Share on Facebook Facebook • This is an extract taken from the Spin, the Guardian’s weekly cricket email. To subscribe to the Spin, just visit this page and follow the instructions. 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