I can see it now. I’ve a horrifying habit. Too many times, I’ve accidentally chosen to work where the local pub is the worst in town.
St Albans is a fetching cathedral and market town, just north of London, in the glamorous greenery of the Home Counties. It boasted over eighty boozers when I lived there, and most prominent is the Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in Verulamium Park, where once stood a Roman city.
An eleventh century building on an eighth century site, it’s the Guinness Book of Records holder of oldest pub in England. My townhouse was an easy par 4 from the Cocks, but I worked on St Albans’ periphery near the untreatably dreadful Bunch of Cherries. I’d many a pint there with my workmates, although as an example of 1960’s Dismal Brick/Shithouse, it has less charisma than a Heathrow toilet.
The smallest place I’ve lived is the exception to this cosmopolitan misery. Kimba is half way across Australia, and on a Friday its sole pub was rollicking and happy. Icy beer, roaring jukebox. The core of its community. My first weekend in town, I won the meat tray. How could I not love it?
Geelong-besotted supporters identify Kimba as the hometown of Corey Enright. As a young fella who was frequently upright, and possessing of a pulse, I became Boris’ PE teacher. All saw him as a gifted footballer, but I argued that he was a better leg spinner, and could go far. Bowling on concrete decks that bounced and bit like a taipan, he bamboozled men and boys alike.
June 4, 1993 is a Friday, and despite it being Eastern Eyre footy season, a blissful tangle of chaps is inhaling ale. The Kimba pub jukebox blasts Choir Boys, Meat Loaf, and the sing-along gem, “What’s Up by 4 Non Blondes.” Day Two of the First Ashes Test from Old Trafford is on, but it’s beyond a footballer’s curfew, particularly for us modest B-graders. And then, shortly before lunch, AB throws a tubby, naturally non-blonde the ball.
For all the where-were-you-when-you-heard about Lady Diana, 9/11, the Boxing Day tsunami, there are celebratory counterparts. Jezza’s legendary leap, Australia snatching the America’s Cup, and for many, the Ball of the Century.
Ritchie’s commentating. No Bill hyperbole. Mercifully, no screeching Michael Slater.
He’s done it. He’s started off with the most beautiful delivery. Gatting’s got no idea what’s happened to it. He still doesn’t know.
The batsman’s humbled reaction is apposite. What choice had he? Anger and disappointment could have had no useful function. There’s only Gatting’s acceptance something astounding had occurred, that he had not previously seen, nor would likely see again. In the booming beery frenzy, Robbie, Hendo, Klingy, and I know we’ve witnessed a remarkable episode.
Strolling off, Gatting preternaturally knew he’d stolen a cameo role in what would be regarded as cricket’s most illustrious single-act production. Not a tragic narrative, but one approaching the comedic in its enthralling unlikelihood. Shaking his head in bemusement corroborates our shared view.
Australia was then sponsored by XXXX and, much later, so was I when in the skirmish for beer supremacy a grassroots marketing strategy took me hostage. For twelve months I transmogrified into a XXXX Gold Ambassador. As a Coopers Sparkling and Pale Ale aficionado, I call it the year I barracked for Collingwood. I had not gone native. It was abundantly worse. I had gone Queensland.
Given entirely too much XXXX to inflict upon family and friends, I was also required to host a XXXX-infused BBQ and, finally, with my Kimba mate Bazz, sat in the sponsor’s marquee at the Adelaide Clipsal 500. This was telling given my relationship with motorsport is akin to that between Fev and Mensa.
My ambassadorial climax was a Sunday in Glenelg’s Holdfast Hotel with our most significant modern captain, Allan Border.
Me: I must tell you that you’re my Dad’s favourite cricketer. He describes you as being “pugnacious.”
AB: Well, everyone has their own personal style. I did what I did best.
I decline to say that Dad also once remarked if he had to be in a fight, AB is the first bloke he’d want on his side.
Me: Can I ask you about my best ever sporting moment? The Gatting Ball?
AB: Sure. It was a huge occasion.
Me: Where were you?
AB: At that point I often fielded at midwicket, so I didn’t really get a decent view of it.
Me: But you knew it was special?
AB: Yea. At the drinks break Heals said it was, “a pretty fair seed.”
Laconic understatement. Just what I wanted to hear. Sensational.
Me: What did Gatting say?
AB: He knew it was good too. He’s done really well out of it. The Gatt’s dined out on that story ever since. With all the speaking engagements, he’s very pleased.
Warne’s striking proclamation of his genius is leg spin’s enchanted temple. For cricket fans, it generated a global epiphany while the attendant symbolism makes this the most resounding of his 708 Test wickets.
And on that June afternoon I suspect even the desolate types in The Bunch of Cherries squinting at the screen over pints of tepid Tetleys knew SK Warne’s first Test delivery in England was to be cherished.
In Kimba we definitely did.