The confrontational David Boon was born on December 29, 1960. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the cult hero who helped lift Australia back to their glory days from the nadir that they found themselves in 1980s.
Being a teetotaller, I wonder whether writing anything on David Clarence Boon would be blasphemous on my part. He was, after all, the man who was nicknamed Keg on Legs and whom the brand ambassador for Victoria Bitter [VB] for their campaign called Boonanza towards the middle of the past decade; and the man whose 52 cans of beer still remains a part of Australian folklore.
Ricky Ponting had definitely been the greatest cricketer in the history of Tasmania (if we “imports” like Rohan Kanhai, Alan Knott, Dennis Lillee, Richard Hadlee, and Michael Holding, that is). There cannot be any doubt, however, that David Boon is her favourite son: there will never be another like him.
Stocky and sturdy, Boon always stood out in a group thanks to his easily identifiable mischievous eyes and handlebar über-moustache, which was certainly one of the most famous moustaches of the sport. The only visual equivalent to a moustache-free Boon is probably a beard-free WG Grace: both, as we know, are impossible to imagine.
More solid than spectacular, Boon’s claim to fame lay in his toughness more than anything else. He seldom got carried away by his more spectacular teammates (Dean Jones, for example) and carved a career out of hours of occupation at the crease and a ceaseless appetite for runs.
From 107 Tests, Boon had scored 7,422 runs at 43.65 with 21 hundreds. When he had finished his Test career, only Allan Border had played more matches and had scored more runs among Australians, and Don Bradman, Greg Chappell, and Border were the only ones with more Test hundreds. In First-Class cricket, mostly for Tasmania and Durham, he had scored 23,413 runs at 44.00 with 68 hundreds.
Also a champion of the shorter format, he played a crucial role in Australia’s World Cup win in 1987. Boon had scored 5,964 ODI runs at 37.04 with five hundreds; along with the dour Border and the dynamic Jones, Boon’s solidity had proved to be a crucial cog in the Australian success story.
Despite his physique, Boon was a deceptively good fielder, especially at short-leg, silly-point, or thereabouts. He seldom flinched, and showed amazing reflexes to come up with the most astonishing of catches in his preferred position, whether off spin or pace, often making things look easier than they actually were. He had held 283 First-Class catches, 99 of which came in Tests – and could also keep wickets.
Above everything however, was the lasting image Boon had in the hearts of the Australians even years after his retirement from the scenario. He loved the simple things of life. As Steve Waugh wrote in Out of My Comfort Zone, “Boonie loved the simple things: a cold beer and a ‘blue’ steak. He used to say, ‘Drag it by the horns through the kitchen and that’ll do it for me.’”
They loved Boon, and had even opened the website http://www.boonieforpresident.com (now defunct, but excerpts are available online) which ran with the punch-line “The Queen is dead, long live President Boonie.” The website contained an imaginary CV that spoke more about Boon’s place in the hearts of his countrymen than anything else.
They wrote: “Far and away the most successful cricketer to come from the Apple Isle. Vomited on the hallowed Adelaide Oval Turf in a WSC game in 1988 before a live nationwide TV audience of millions (he went on to make 122 and win Man of the Match). Set the record in 1989 for most beer consumed on the flight to London by an Australian national sporting representative. Chorus-leader for the Australian dressing-room victory song Under the Southern Cross I Stand.”
Writing for The Guardian, Alexander Chancellor took things to the next level: If the monarchists win, the campaign for a republic will be resumed before long. If the republicans win, a campaign will begin for a constitutional amendment to allow for a directly elected president. Then Boonie’s moment will have come.”
Yes, they took the President bit seriously.
Even Border, never one to squander compliments, said that Boon had a “heart to match that of Phar Lap” (the racehorse that still remains one of the greatest icons in Australian sport).
David was born (isn’t it almost impossible to think of a newborn David Boon?) in Launceston of Clarrie and Lesley Boon. While Clarrie Boon was a sports administrator and worked in a news agency, Lesley had represented Australia in hockey. David’s sister Vanessa was born over three years after him.
The Boons moved from South Launceston to Launceston Central Business District when David was six. They came back to South Launceston and David was started attending the Launceston Church Grammar School where he was a champion in cricket, footie, and swimming.
The Lancashire all-rounder Jack Simmons used to be a coach at Launceston in those days. He handpicked a ten-year old Boon (once again, something extremely difficult to visualise) and mentored him into First-Class cricket. It must be remembered that Tasmania was not inducted into Sheffield Shield till 1977-78, which meant that it was always difficult for Tasmanians to break into the national side.
Boon made his First-Class debut at the age of 17 against Queensland at The Gabba under the leadership of Simmons himself and scored 22. Two matches later, he scored 90 and 23 against South Australia at Devonport, and his career was off. The next season was special for Tasmania as they won the Gillette Cup, defeating Western Australia by 47 runs at Hobart. Boon managed only eight in the final.
The first hundred came in his third season: playing against Victoria at Hobart he scored 114 and added 174 with Brian Davison. He got 67 more in the second outing, but could not stop the stronger side from winning. He continued to play for Tasmania with distinction and made it to the Zimbabwe tour with Young Australia in 1982-83.
In the two “Tests” Boon played on that tour he scored 148, 18, and 108 against a side consisting mostly of players who would go on to play in the subsequent World Cup. Back home he slammed 227 against Victoria at MCG out of a team score of 450. It still remains the highest for a number three batsman for Tasmania, and was the second-highest score (it is fifth on the list now) by a Tasmanian at that point of time.
With Greg Chappell announcing his retirement a spot opened for Boon in the following season. Back-to-back hundreds (138 against NSW at Launceston and 104 against Victoria at Melbourne) helped his cause, and Boon made his Test debut against West Indies at The Gabba in 1984-85 alongside Bob Holland.
Baptism by fire
West Indies had already won the first Test at WACA by a resounding margin. There was almost an encore at The Gabba with Clive Lloyd and Richie Richardson both scoring hundreds and the quartet of fast bowlers sharing all 20 wickets among themselves.
Boon had scored 11 in the first innings before West Indies took a 249-run lead. He walked out at 106 for four, and batted hard for a 128-ball 51, adding a 74-minute 78 with Wayne Phillips. He also fought hard with Geoffrey Lawson and Rodney Hogg for company and made sure West Indies batted again.
After a failure in the next Test at Adelaide (where the tourists clinched the series) he was dropped from the side for the fourth Test at MCG. However, with Kim Hughes out of the fifth Test at SCG Boon was recalled. Batting at six he once again had to shepherd the tail, and score a gutsy 123-ball 49 as Holland led Australia to an innings victory.
He also made his ODI debut that season, scoring 39, 55, and 44 in his first three innings of the Benson & Hedges World Series Cup that also included West Indies and Sri Lanka. By now he had been promoted to three for Tasmania, and a 239-ball 147 against Western Australia at Hobart found him a place on the flight to England.
Boon began his first Ashes campaign on a high, scoring 269 runs before he got out for the first time on the tour. He made his Ashes debut at Headingley and played the first four Tests, but managed a solitary fifty when he top-scored with 61 in the fourth Test at Old Trafford. He was then dropped for the next two Tests at Edgbaston and The Oval; England won both Tests and clinched the series 3-1.
Boon had a decent tour, though. He scored 832 runs at 55.46 with three hundreds that included a 206 not out against Northamptonshire at Northampton. He finished next to only Border on the averages chart, and in terms of runs only Border and Greg Ritchie had scored more.
Geoff Marsh arrives
Boon suddenly found himself as one of the senior members of the side in the Australian summer of 1985-86. Opening batting with Phillips, he saw his side sink to 33 for two at Adelaide against India. He found support in Border and Richie on his way to his maiden Test hundred – a 255-ball 123 with 14 fours.
A Western Australian called Geoff Marsh had made his debut in the Test. Batting at three he had failed in the first innings. With the match ending in a drab draw Australia were left to bat only eight overs in the third innings. Border held back a tired Philips and sent Marsh out to open with Boon.
The eight-over partnership was the first time that Boon and Marsh opened an innings together. The pair went on to open batting for Australia 41 times, and scored 1,871 runs at 46.77. Between them they helped build the foundation for Australia in an era when they struggled for survival against the top teams in the world.
After a failure in a fortunate draw at MCG Boon was back at SCG; after India declared at 600 for four Boon added 217 in 408 balls with Marsh; he eventually fell for a 311-ball 131 with 16 fours that helped Australia saved the Test.
A lasting partnership was thus forged. Waugh later wrote: “They [Marsh and Boon] were very much a part of Australian cricket’s renaissance, leading the way in attitude and professionalism. They often set off for training an hour before the rest of us to practise against net bowlers and talk cricket with Simmo [Bobby Simpson], who had a profound influence on both. Boonie [Boon] and Swamp [Marsh] represented the ‘typical Aussie bloke’: tough, uncompromising, exponents of mateship and revellers in a team environment.”
Success, then failure
Boon’s love-affair with the Indians spilled over to the return tour, where he started off with a patient 122 and 49 in the tied Test at Cheapauk. He then followed it with innings of 67 at Kotla and 47 and 40 at Wankhede. The tour also saw him score his maiden ODI ton at Jaipur.
Marsh and Boon added 212 runs for the opening stand. Boon scored 111 while Marsh managed 104. It was the first time that both openers scored hundreds in an ODI. It was also the first time that there was an ODI opening stand worth a double-hundred, and the record stood for 11 years. Despite the stand, however, India won the match thanks to some outrageous hitting from Krishnamachari Srikkanth and Raman Lamba.
The home Ashes that followed later that season turned out to be disastrous for Boon. He scored 103 in the first innings at Adelaide, but scored 41 from the other seven innings as he saw Australia concede the Ashes 1-2.
Top of the world
When Australia made the trip to the World Cup in the subcontinent nobody gave them a chance. India, Pakistan, and West Indies were the obvious favourites, and after the latter were knocked out, the stage was set for an India-Pakistan final. As things turned out, both teams were knocked out in the semifinal, and Australia beat England to clinch the World Cup.
Boon played a pivotal role throughout the tournament. He started with 49 against India in their first match at Cheapauk, and in their rain-affected match against New Zealand he scored a 96-ball 87 with five fours and two sixes, winning the Man of the Match award. He top-scored in the next match against India at Kotla as well with a 59-ball 62, but Australia lost the match.
The Aussies were by now a certainty for the semifinal, and Boon continued with his fine form by top-scoring against Zimbabwe at Cuttack with 93, once again winning the Man of the Match award. His golden touch saw Australia pip Pakistan in the first semifinal at Gaddafi Stadium as well when he top-scored again with 65.
It all thus came down to the final at Eden Gardens. It was simply not believable that Boon would top-score again, but there was no stopping him. He contributed with a crucial 75 (which was, again, the top-score) as Australia reached 253 for seven. England were cruising along when Mike Gatting’s kamikaze reverse-sweep put them off-track and gifted the World Cup to Border. Boon was named the Man of the Match again.
From eight innings, Boon had scored 447 runs (next to only Graham Gooch’s 471) at 55.87 and a strike rate of 76.67 with five fifties. One of the secrets behind Australia’s success story was the intense running-between-the-wickets – an approach to which Boon contributed as much as anyone: 71% of his runs had come in singles.
With the newly instilled confidence Australia began with a bang against New Zealand at home. Australia clinched the series 1-0 with a win in the first Test at The Gabba, thanks to a Boon special. After being bowled out for 186 the Kiwis had hit back in style, but they still had Boon to contend with.
Australia were reduced to 131 for four: Boon’s four partners had scored 40 between them. Boon was eventually fifth out for a 255-ball 143 scored out of only 219 during his stay. Some resistance from Waugh, Peter Sleep, and Craig McDermott saw Australia reach 305 and win by nine wickets.
The magnum opus, however, came in the Bicentenary Test at SCG later that season. After Australia trailed by 211 and had to follow-on, Boon batted for 431 balls, carving out a Test-saving innings of 184 that Wisden called “an innings rich in discipline and defiance”. The innings-defeat was avoided with only one wicket down, and Australia returned with their heads high. Boon was awarded an MBE in the 1988 Queen’s Birthday Honours for Services to Cricket that season.
Boon made a 110-ball 80 at WACA when West Indies came along next season, but the real performance came when Australia won the Test at SCG. Pushed to number three to accommodate Mark Taylor at the top, Boon carved out an epic 425-ball 149: the innings triggered a long undefeated phase for the Australians as West Indies by seven wickets.
This was followed by an excellent performance against Queensland at Launceston where he single-handedly won the match for his side with 108 and 143. In the process, Boon became the first player to score two hundreds in the same after Charlie Eady 93 seasons back.
Summer of ’52
Boon started the 1989 Ashes in spectacular fashion: for mortals an Ashes campaign typically triggers off with the first net session; Boon had taken off during the flight. It is rumoured that Boon consumed 52 cans (375 ml) of beer during the flight from Sydney to London beating Rodney Marsh and Doug Walters’ 12-year record of 44 cans.
It is to be noted that Walters and Marsh were actually competing with each other, while Boon kept on motivating himself to cross the much-coveted fifty-mark. Boon has himself never commented on the story, but his aircraft neighbour Lawson had. Their journey was also six hours longer than Boon’s.
It is a record similar to Don Bradman’s Test average or Muttiah Muralitharan’s tally of Test wickets in the sense that is not likely to be broken anytime soon. To put things into perspective, Boon consumed 19.5 litres of beer during the journey. Given that the Alcohol by Volume [ABV] for VB is 4.6%, this amounts to well over four times the (upper limit of) alcohol one should consume per week. Boon achieved his feat in 24 hours.
Several years later Carlton United made a commercial based on Boon’s record-breaking achievement.
Waugh later wrote: “Boonie, after drowning 52 cans of beer, didn’t appear to be in too bad a shape… until he tried to walk. Thankfully, Geoff Marsh realised his great mate’s predicament and grabbed his arm and, Weekend at Bernie’s style, escorted him through customs and onto our bus to begin a recuperation that included a couple of days of sleep.”
Whatever happened after this record-breaking performance was supposed to be an anticlimax. Boon did not score a hundred in the 1989 Ashes but played a significant role at number three as Australia regained the Ashes with a 4-0 margin. He finished the Ashes with 442 at 55.25 with three fifties. He did a good job in the tour matches, and finished with 1,306 runs – next to only Taylor and Jones – at 56.78.
The most significant tour moment (barring the beer-fest) for Boon came in the Old Trafford Test: Australia needed only 78 to regain the Ashes and Boon came out to join Taylor when the tourists needed only 16. Eventually, with the scores level, Boon hit Nick Cook for four to bring the coveted urn home.
Ups and downs
Boon celebrated his return back home with 200 – his only Test double-hundred – against New Zealand at WACA, but found himself in a run of three ducks in five innings. This triggered off a string of 12 innings without a single fifty, including 18 and 28 in the first two Ashes innings.
Set 197 to win the second Test at MCG, Boon found him walking to the centre to join Marsh at ten for two. Day Five, however, saw things take a turn as Boon scored 94 not out to see Australia to an eight-wicket victory. In the next Test at SCG he scored 97, and it was evident that he was back on track.
Australia retained the Ashes with an emphatic 3-0 victory. Boon scored 121 at Adelaide, and despite the poor start finished the series at the top with 530 runs at 75.71 (104 runs ahead of Gooch, who was in the next place).
Boon began his first tour to West Indies on a high: he batted at three, was hit brutally by Patrick Patterson, and took the pace quartet by the horns and remained unvanquished on 109 at Sabina Park in his first Test innings in the country. Wisden wrote that Boon had a “resolve unshaken either by the wickets tumbling around him or a cut on the chin from a [Patrick] Patterson bouncer when he was 95.”
Other than a 57 in the fourth Test at Kensington Oval, however, Boon did little of note. Though Australia was on the ascent, they found West Indies too hot to handle and conceded the series 0-3.
The Indians are home!
Poor Indians. For some reason Boon always singled them out for special treatment. From 11 Tests against India, home and away, Boon scored 1,204 runs at 70.82; he had crossed fifty eight times of which six had been converted to hundreds.
This time, too, Boon decimated them single-handedly with hundreds at SCG, Adelaide, and WACA. Boon finished with 556 runs at 79.42, a significant 134 runs clear of Taylor, the next person on the list. Australia completed a 4-0 rout. He added an unbeaten hundred in the Benson & Hedges World Series against India at Bellerive Oval for good measure.
His performance on a hard, bouncy pitch in the WACA Test stood out above everything. The Indians, especially Javagal Srinath, tried to bounce him out, but Boon was up to the challenge, adapting his technique to score runs at will. An awestruck Venkathapaty Raju later said, “[David] Boon played amazingly; he was cutting from over his head!”
Playing a lone hand
Thanks to the exceptional performances in the Ashes and the ongoing home season Australia were largely expected to defend their World Cup title. As things turned out, the co-hosts were knocked out in the League stage following unexpected defeats against New Zealand, South Africa, and England.
Boon started off the campaign in style, scoring 100 as Australia lost their opening match against New Zealand at Eden Park. Martin Crowe opened bowling with Dipak Patel, and the local slow-medium pacers choked the tourists into submission. Boon waged a single battle as he was left stranded: nobody else managed to reach 40.
He scored another hundred – once again a round 100 – in the last league match against West Indies at MCG (Tom Moody’s 42 was next-best), but the 57-run win was not good enough to take Australia into the semifinal. Despite Australia’s failure Boon did an excellent job, scoring 368 runs at 52.57; he scored the only hundreds for Australia.
Conquering England, again
The 1993 Ashes is usually remembered for Shane Warne’s ball of the century, but the 4-1 victory would not have been possible without Boon’s phenomenal performance with the bat. The Tasmanian scored 555 at 69.37 with three hundreds, each of which was instrumental in rubbing England’s nose to the dirt.
The series started with 93 in the second innings at Old Trafford. Australia won the next Test at Lord’s by an innings: having relinquished the opening slot to Michael Slater, Boon walked out at 260 for one as both openers scored hundreds. Boon rubbed the English noses even more, scoring 164 not out as Australia posted 632 for four and won by an innings.
The juggernaut rolled on: when England were in a slight fix at Trent Bridge Boon bailed them out with a brisk 177-ball 101. The Ashes was retained in the next Test at Headingley where Boon scored 107 before Border and Steve Waugh added an unbroken 332. Australia posted 653 for four and won easily.
He failed in the last two Tests, but still finished with an excellent tour. He had started the tour with 108 and 106 against Worcestershire at New Road, and did not look back since. He topped the tour averages with 1,437 runs at 75.63 with nine hundreds (which included three in a row) and was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year.
Meandering along to be a part of history
Boon followed the golden duck in the second innings at The Oval with another in the first innings of his next Test at WACA. He recovered from the temporary slump with 89 not out in the first innings, and then added 106 at Bellerive for good measure (it was the first Test hundred by a Tasmanian at Hobart): Australia scored 544 for six and won by an innings.
He had a decent outing in South Africa and then added a valiant 114 not out against Pakistan at Karachi. He stood helplessly at one end as he saw the tourists collapse from 171 for two to 232. Australia lost the series but retained the Ashes easily despite Boon’s indifferent form. He crossed fifty only once when he top-scored with 131 in the second innings at MCG.
It was evident that Boon’s career was on the wane, but he became a part of history when Australia managed to usurp West Indies from their throne in 1994-95. Boon did not make significant contributions with the bat other than a match-saving 67 at St John’s that turned out to be crucial in the end. In the next Test at Queen’s Park Oval Boon became the second Australian to play a hundred Tests.
By this time the shorter version had also started to change, which meant that the sides all over the world needed explosive batsmen at the top. Trevor Hohns, the Chairman of Selectors, called Boon and told him: “Babsy, we’re not sure about you, the game’s changed and we’re going to probably move on for the future.”
Boon later said in an interview to Wisden: “When he [Hohns] told me that, my heart sank. But when I sat down and analysed why, he was right.” He knew his time was over but decided to play on for another season. Despite scoring an 85-ball 85 not out against West Indies at Kensington Oval Boon never played another ODI after the tour.
The final season
Boon seemed out of sorts during his last season against Pakistan, crossing fifty only once. He decided to hang up his boots after the home series against Sri Lanka later that season. He had one final hurrah, scoring 110 in the second Test at MCG as Australia won by ten wickets.
In his last Test – against Sri Lanka at Adelaide – Boon played his part in another easy victory with 43 and 35. The curtains were drawn; the team song that he had been singing since Border had taken up the captaincy was passed over to Ian Healy, the new successor; and David Boon left a Test match for one final time.
Tasmania and Durham
Upon retirement Boon continued to play for Tasmania. In 1997 he got a contract from Durham. He continued to play First-Class cricket till 1999, leading Tasmania and Durham in alternate seasons. His last match came against Leicestershire at Grace Road where he scored 53.
Earlier that year Boon had announced his retirement from First-Class cricket in Australia. To honour him Tasmania Cricket Association declared the last day of the Sheffield Shield match against NSW as David Boon Sunday: they allowed free entrance for everyone and organised a commemorative programme.
The surprise appearance
In 2008, at the age of 47, Boon suddenly turned up for University in a Hobart Grade Competition match with almost no preparation. Never one to shy away from responsibilities, Boon faced Tasmanian seamer Chris Duval; however, he fell for two while going for an ambitious off-drive.
Retired, but never quit
On retirement Boon became a member of the Cricket Australia Selection Committee replacing his old mate Geoff Marsh (Boon became a colleague of Merv Hughes: what a pair they made!). He retained that position till May 2011, when he quit as there were speculations that he might be sacked.
Four months after his resignation he became an ICC match-referee replacing Alan Hurst on the panel. At the time of writing this article Boon had officiated in 20 Tests, 39 ODIs, and nine T20Is; he had overseen the recently concluded the series between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in UAE.
Bellerive Oval decided to unveil the David Boon Club in their New Century Room in October 2002 when they inducted eleven Tasmanians in their Field of Fame. The “Field” was resembled the form of a small cricket ground, and the centre of which was a statuette of Boon himself.
The greatest honour possibly came when the pavilion at the Northern Tasmania Cricket Association Ground in Launceston (that had hosted an ODI) was renamed The David Boon Stand. Boon was only 31 at that time. Seldom has a played been thus honoured at an age this young.
His son Jack (named after Simpson) had recently attended the Under-18 identification camp (which also included Mitchell Marsh and Alister McDermott, both sons of Boon’s ex-colleagues).
Despite the fact that he was almost never being uttered in the same breath as the greats, Boon became a cult figure among Australian cricket fans. Over a decade after his retirement Boon “became the face of” VB during its advertisement campaigns in 2005-06 and 2006-07, which was when Boonanza was launched.
As a part of the campaign VB created a small talking David Boon figurine which came with purchases of VB beer; later, when Ian Botham (Beefy) was also roped in, Boony and Beefy became a rather popular figurine combination among beer and cricket connoisseurs.
The pair went on to become so popular that the “package” eventually had to be taken outside the commercials.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)
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