Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Padding Up

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Padding Up

Article excerpt

"Cucumber sandwiches . . . distant tinkle of ice in lemonade jug . . . satisfying clunk of leather against willow." There are many summer sports with strong eating associations. Think of tennis and strawberries, or baseball and hotdogs. But one sport is uniquely gluttonous. Only cricket actually writes mealtimes into the rules. According to Law 16 of cricket, you can cancel tea, but lunch is sacrosanct.

This reverence for the rituals of feeding is part of what makes the game so relaxing (some would say boring). Nothing is so important that it should interfere with a man's alimentary refreshments. No part of the game is so dramatic that any of the players would forget that they feel a bit peckish around one-ish. And nor is the game so demanding that it can't be done on a full stomach, if pushed. You don't have to be the world's leanest athlete to knock a ball with a stick and then amble across a rather small square of grass a few times, though it makes the game more interesting if the fielders are sprightly enough to run a bit.

Some of the greatest cricketers have been prodigious eaters, and stout with it. The Victorian all-rounder Alfred Mynn was massively built, thanks to tremendous suppers of cold pork, yet was "exceedingly light in his movements", as a contemporary remembered. "Beef and beer are the things to play cricket on!" he declared. W G Grace was also huge, though he ate surprisingly little. Drink was a different matter. Every lunchtime he took a large whisky and soda with a dash of angostura bitters, and another after the end of play. When he wanted to slim, he drank cider, with predictable results.

English cricketing greed has traditionally had a narrow pavilion mentality, a suspicion of anything garlicky or flavoursome. Indeed, village cricket is still played on carvery lunches and teas of Victoria sponges and rock cakes, the immemorial picnic food of little Englanders. …

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