The Australians celebrate their Ashes 1989 victory with, you’ve guessed it right, beers; you cannot miss David Boon’s moustache © Getty Images
The Australians celebrate their Ashes 1989 victory with, you’ve guessed it right, beers; you cannot miss David Boon’s moustache © Getty Images

April 30, 1989. As the Qantas flight landed in Heathrow, there emerged from the aircraft a burly, moustachioed man, fresh from breaking an Australian record. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at an incident that has been etched in cricket folklore forever.

David Boon scored 7,422 runs at 43.65 with 21 hundreds from 107 Tests. The world does not know these numbers by heart, and they can hardly be blamed for that. What they do know of, however, is that trademark moustache that makes him stand out in a hundred; and, of course, that 52-strong 1989 beer-fest on the Qantas flight to London.

By the early 1960s the teams had started flying for cricket stories, thus putting an end to the romance of long voyages and the romance one associates with them. The exotic-sounding ship names ceased to exist, and were replaced by alphanumeric flight numbers. Qantas and British Airways ferried men out on quests for the urn.

Allan Border’s men were out to regain The Ashes in 1989. The long Qantas Jumbo flight was supposed to take of Sydney, halt at Singapore, and was supposed to land at Heathrow on April 30. Travelling as a part of the side was Boon. Few anticipated the feat he was about to pull off.

Keg on legs

When Rodney Marsh and Doug Walters had gulped down 44 cans of beer each in the 1973 trip back home from the Caribbean, it did not seem likely that the record would be broken anytime soon.

One must remember that flights were longer those days. The attendants were more ‘cooperative’, and despite everything things never got out of control. While Walters had kept a track of his 44 cans, Marsh’s is largely undocumented: all that remains is Marsh’s own claim that he had matched Walters can-by-can.

Encores were attempted in 1977 and 1983, but 44 remained beyond the scope of the Men from Down Under (though some claim Marsh did a 46 in 1983). When the Qantas Jumbo took off, Boon did not have the 45-figure in mind — or at least that is what his claim is.

Boon started off slowly, accompanied by Merv Hughes and Mark Taylor (to be fair, all three had imposing physiques). Dean Jones joined in soon. None of the three kept a count — but Jones did. “Boonie had plenty of advice for me as we had just left Singapore and we had just finished our 22nd can of beer,” Jones later told Australian Paper.

All this had to be done with utmost caution, for neither Border nor Bobby Simpson nor Lawrie Sawle (Chairman of Selectors) would have approved had they got an air of the goings-on. This was an era when Border and Simpson were trying to get the team out of the idea (to quote Steve Waugh) that hamburgers were not healthy just because it had lettuce in it. There was more to fitness than that.

Jones fell asleep on the top deck (where Simpson and Sawle were seated) soon after the flight took off. Geoff Lawson, meanwhile, had been keeping a score on sick-bags. Hughes, Geoff Marsh, Tom Moody, and Carl Rackemann gave Boon moral support from what The Age called “the non-striker’s end”.

Jones claimed that he woke up, confused, amidst the deafening sound of the entire crew and passengers applauding. He told The Age: “Hearing all the boisterous applause, Bob Simpson thought someone had won a big card game and explained to Laurie Sawle that he’d collected a similar kitty while making the 1964 journey to England.”

The captain had just announced on the public announcement system that Boon had gone past Marsh’s and Walters’ 44. The attendants confirmed the count as 52 cans of Victoria Bitter beers.

Hughes, however, insists the count is wrong. “That’s an absolute fabrication of the truth. It was 53 cans,” he told The Guardian.

Simpson was not amused. Jones tried to convince him to send the Tasmanian home and have him at No. 3 instead. Somehow the coach was not convinced. He tried to ensure the incident did not get public, but by the time he put a curfew on his team, Hughes had already informed a few radio stations.

Boon did not stop there. The team attended the press conference; the Australian media (thankfully) did not ask Boon questions. The team then attended a cocktail party hosted by XXXX (the sponsors) when Boon downed three more cans (rumours are that he had another couple at Sydney before the flight had taken off). He then went into a 36-hour slumber and missed two practice sessions.

How much did he drink?

The cans were not pint-sized. They measured a ‘tinny’ or a ‘stubby’, in other words, 375-ml cans. If we go by the 52-can count, that amounts to 19.5 litres of beer. That seems absurd even if we think water.

Additionally, if one goes by the 4.6% ABV, then Boon consumed 897 ml of pure, undiluted, unadulterated alcohol in the space of 24 hours. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recommends about a third of that per week.

Dr Donald Curran admonished the act in an article in Medical Journal of Australia later that year: “With the inevitably shorter flights to London, the next record breaker may arrive ‘dead’ on time … It is well-known that alcohol can have very serious toxic effects on heart muscle resulting in cardiac arrest.”

What about the man?

The most surprising aspect of Boon’s feat is the silence of the man himself on the incident: “Never spoke about it, never will,” were his only words to Weekend Australian Magazine. “We played our cricket in an era where blokes learned never to let the truth get in the way of a good story,” were the words he reserved for Fox Sports.

What followed?

– Boon later became brand ambassador of VB.

– Boon’s feat was dwarfed by baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs in January 2015 during a cross-country flight in USA. He consumed 107 beers in a day.

Brief scores:

David Boon 52.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)