‘Steady’ on the champagne | Australia’s 1880 recipe for cricketing success

Though the touring Australian cricketers lost the September 1880 Test Match (the first to be held in England), they had, overall, a successful tour, winning 4 of the 8 matches they played against first-class sides, with 3 draws and 1 narrow loss.

In August 1880 when they were still undefeated, their captain and star batsman, W. L (Billy) Murdoch was asked for the secret of their success.


Billy Murdoch – no 2 Australian batsman of all time?

In the light of the lack of success by this year’s touring team, I thought it might be worth reproducing their captain’s response as reported by the Leeds Times on 28 August. This was at a dinner given to them by the Lord Mayor of Leeds.

“They kept very steady, they went to bed early, never indulged in heavy dinners, and took very little champagne. The secret of their success had been their steadiness ever since they landed  in England.“  So, there you have it. No night clubs. Definitely not ‘Champagne Charlies’. Team take note.

Murdoch had earlier suggested that it might be that “cricketers would have to choose between champagne and beer and defeat and total abstinence and victory”, though he hastened to add that “there had been some good cricketing by men who were not exactly teetotallers.”

Then as now cricketers were not known for their teetotal behaviour. A trophy (‘solid silver’) presented to a Sheffield league in 1880 was proudly proclaimed by the donor to require “exactly five bottles of champagne” to fill it. The ‘christening’ proved his point.

The comic journal Punch had an article that same year about the Oxford versus Cambridge match. Their ‘scorecard’ focused on consumption rather than on-field heroics and read like this:

Lobster Salad, bowled Batter … ….                   1,489

Dry Champagne, caught Tumbler … …          36,482

Soda Water, not out … …                                        0

 Pickled salmon, Roast Fowls, Cold Meat, Wheat Bread &c., still to go in.

 Note that the champagne was ‘dry’ – that was the fashionable drink whether or not you truly liked it so.

When the Australians were over some 20 years later in 1899, no such scruples about champagne existed. Charles Heidsieck, the charismatic dandy known as ‘Champagne Charlie’ (Hugh Grant played him in the film version of his life), brought out his private stocks to entertain them at the Trocadero and promised that his château was always open to “those shining lights of the profession present.”

Charles Heidsieck

The great Charles Heidsieck

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