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A cheerful crowd has a drink in the charming atmosphere of an old Oval pub | England v India 2021

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TThree years ago, in one of its smartest moves, the Oval ditched the disposable plastic beer cups and replaced them with reusable, stackable cups that you could keep all day and then return to. the end of the game for a refund of £ 1.

Besides the many environmental benefits, encouraging spectators to keep their beer cups had the nice benefit of allowing them and everyone else to track their consumption.

Now, as the game wraps up for the evening, you can see punters carrying their huge stacks around like trophies: about 10 or 15 cups high, a living southern monument steeped in consumption and perseverance. “How was your day at cricket, my dear?” For the first time, this is a question with a knowable and measurable answer.

As India recklessly stacked the tracks on a windy and lukewarm third day, it was easy to ignore the many equally impressive accumulating feats taking place in the stands. It is one of the truisms of Test cricket that there are times when it is only tangentially about cricket.

With the greatest respect for Cheteshwar Pujara and Ollie Robinson, a long vanishing afternoon where the running rate is comfortably below three is such an occasion: a time to wander, gather in dimly lit halls and stand in line for liquid refreshment and elimination of it, to get gradually and satisfactorily intoxicated.

At this point, we should probably be clear about the type of drunkenness we’re talking about here. Like the game itself, Cricket Drunkenness comes in many different formats, but the Original is still the best. There’s a place for the rowdy rowdy Friday night happy hour Blast, for the hedonistic drink, congas, and sunstroke associated with touring overseas.

But well done and well paced, the drunkenness of practice matches in English remains the most widespread and perfectly performed form of sports drunkenness: a whole day of quiet drunkenness and without judgment with the four results – total happiness , existential crisis, uncontrollable laughter and sleep – possible.

It was a slow day at the Oval. Photograph: Tom Jenkins / The Guardian

More importantly, alcohol consumption during practice matches largely exists independent of the game. In fact, the less the better – just sip and let the picture blur a bit. the edges.

Seen through this hazy prism, even the most inert game passages begin to take on a narcotic fascination. Is he an idiot in the middle? Why do they call him an idiot in the middle? Joe Root looks funny when he’s bowling. Did Pujara spend six minutes having his foot tied or did I imagine it? A cricket pitch is awfully big, when you think about it. This man wears two hats. It must be quite lonely to be a referee. I wonder what they are thinking. What happened to Yusuf Pathan? Okay, it’s time for another.

One thing that has changed about test match consumption is the variety. The craft beer revolution came late to cricket, which until a few years ago was still stuck with its centuries-old menu of bubbly piss in a choice of two colors. Now wander through an English proving ground and you are overwhelmed by the huge range of alcohol: a dozen different kinds of beer, specialty gin, wine bars, cocktail stands serving something called a Lazy Negroni or for the more expensive palates a bottle of Veuve Clicquot at £ 85 (excluding the £ 5 decanter fee).

Of course, you encounter significant regional variations. Edgbaston, with his menacing halls and unruly football energy, is probably doing a little too much. The huge, windswept temporary stall at Old Trafford is a beautiful place to drink, toss beach balls, and generally lose all feeling in your toes and good luck getting a Lazy Negroni at Headingley.

The Oval, on the other hand, often feels like an adorable old pub, with narrow passages, weathered brick walls, and dimly lit nooks where you’ll often find Shane Warne having a cheeky queer.

To some extent, there’s an element of gentrification to all of this: the re-imagining of the sports venue as a sort of flat-bed entertainment village, a pop-up food and drink stand with a cricket attached. At the same time, you feel a growing ambivalence towards alcohol within English cricket. We are told that one of the main goals of the Hundred was to get away from the drenched atmospheres of the Blast. We are told that English cricket needs to become more family oriented, less lairy and less blokeish.

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There are elements of truth in all of this. Any well-meaning attempt to diversify the cricket audience should be welcome, but that brings us back to the discussion of the different types of drunkenness. For every rude vulgar who makes loud jokes about Kock’s Quinton, there are probably 100 fans who get drunk in a harmless enough way: watching cricket, not really watching cricket, gossiping, absorbing, just being.

The essential truth is that cricket and drinking have always been inextricably and irresistibly linked: from John Arlott’s trusty glass of red to the locker room cans to the cheeky pint placed just above the limit to the square leg. deep.

You don’t need to drink to enjoy cricket, but there are times when the two feel perfect together. From the bars, a magnificent roar announces the dismissal of Rohit Sharma and the end of a long and patient position. Meanwhile, cricket’s longest and most rewarding partnership continues unabated.

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