Over the years, through the course of my work, I have been fortunate enough to attend many great sporting events. The invitations, and corresponding hospitality, have included horse-racing at Ascot, arena polo at Hickstead, tennis at Wimbledon and several rugby union matches, among them the nerve-shredding 1999 Five Nations (as was) game in Paris, which Wales ultimately edged by 34 points to 33, and the spine-tingling 11-9 Six Nations victory over England in 2005. The latter was particularly memorable as it involved a) a trip to Cardiff on the Orient Express b) set up the first of Wales’ three Grand Slams in eight years and c) won me a shed-load of money on side bets, thanks to my faith in the form – and boot – of a certain Gavin Henson. Recalling THAT tackle on Matthew Tait can still bring a smile to my face on the most dismal of days.
Earlier this month, I added cricket to my sporting portfolio, courtesy of Accolade Wines and Hardys (the official wine of England cricket), at a very special outfield dinner to celebrate the Bicentenary of Lord’s. The black-tie event included drinks and dancing in the Long Room, a very animated panel discussion about a certain South African-born player’s autobiography, and an HRB (Heritage Reserve Bin) Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 so delicious it defies description, although “ambrosial” comes close. It was quite a night.
Rain would have stopped play – but the party powered on
I will admit, however, to being slightly nervous beforehand, as my entire cricket knowledge could fit comfortably on the back of a stamp, and still leave plenty of room for ‘Calon Lân’. I barely know my googlies from my grubbers, I thought a Jaffa was an orange, and was convinced a dibbly-dobbly was complete and utter fabrication – so I was far from reassured by the advice of a certain Facebook Friend, who counselled: “Just remember the scrum-half is offside when the caddy hits a forehand slice to third base.” Thankfully salvation came in the form of an old school friend, who reassured me: “There’s booze there, you’ll be fine.”
Walking the walk: from the Long Room to the pitch
And so I was, although “booze” in no way, shape or form comes close to describing the cornucopia of fine wines that awaited guests that evening in the Tent of Dreams. Guided by the ever-dashing Accolade Wines Commercial Director Global Travel Retail Rupert Firbank, I Mannfully sampled them all (I’ve been mentored by Mr Moodie; ’nuff said).
Having a ball with Hardys wines
The Hardys wines were matched in quality by the calibre of my fellow dinner guests, who included several members of the UK World Duty Free Group team, and the effervescent P&O Buyer Charlotte Barton. But the evening’s entertainment began in earnest when cricket royalty and Ashes heroes Messrs Anderson (James), Collingwood (Paul), Hoggard (Matthew) and Jones (Simon) took to the stage, for a spot of wine-tasting and pontificating about Mr Pietersen’s recent revelations.
Their observations were frank, funny and forthright, albeit peppered with quite a few words I can’t print here. Anderson noted briskly: “We’ve got cricket to play – and more important things to worry about than someone’s book. The issues that have been brought up? It’s sad really. You don’t achieve [the wins we’ve had] without guys pulling in the same direction. I can’t quite get my head around it.”
Collingwood echoed that opinion. “I don’t quite understand it,” he declared. “The last seven years have been one of the most successful eras of the England cricket team. Kevin Pietersen has done a lot for English cricket – and English cricket has done a lot for him. This is just one man’s opinion, against everybody else’s. I’m always very wary of guys bringing out books because they sound bitter.”
He added: “We’ve had three Ashes wins, one in Australia [and all the other wins]. Look at the positives. If you think the England dressing room was so divided, there’s no *censored* chance we’d have won any of those, I can tell you. I had some of the best times of my life, with a great group of lads, travelling around the world, all together, having fun and playing good cricket on the park.”
Jones was a tad more forbearing: “When he came in to the team, he was a young lad, keen to impress. But guys change, they find their feet and they move on. Now, I’ve not been in that dressing room [of late], so these other guys know exactly what went on. But for Kevin to come out and say the things he has, there must be some truth behind it. The thing is, from a neutral point of view, there’s an argument for him, and there’s an argument against him…We’ll have to see what happens in the next few weeks. I’m sure Kevin’s the happiest man in the world at the moment because the press have done him a massive favour, Twitter has gone bonkers, and he’s selling books.”
Hoggard, however, was much more critical. “I don’t think we will see Kevin Pietersen apologise,” he stated. “I think he is a very bitter man. I think he is getting a lot of his anger out in his book, which is a fantastic way to sell a book before Christmas…He’s [behaving] like a little kiddie in the school ground.”
Debate about the chronicles of Kevin was duly replaced by some good-natured banter about ball-shining, selection policies, and Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff’s prodigious drinking abilities, which had guests creased up (ahem) with laughter. Jones could easily carve out a second career as a stand-up.
Emboldened by my afore-mentioned divine HRB Cab Sauv, after dinner I introduced myself to my fellow Welshman, and we chin-wagged at length as only the Taffia can. His wife hails from the same village as my mother; he happily signed my cricket ball (best table favour ever?!) for my still-green-with-envy, cricket-mad spouse; and we are now Twitter besties. Tidy.
The evening concluded in style, with music and dancing back in the Long Room, where it had all begun. Huge thanks to the Accolade team for their amazing hospitality, and a rare opportunity to experience the hidden treasures of Lord’s. Howzat for a peerless night out?