David Boon: Australian Legend

Pssst (supplement to The Age), p. 28, September 23, 2001.

Some would plump for Hudson and Pratt’s 150 goals in a season, others would nominate Bradman’s average of 99.94. But Pssst begs to differ. The most talked about statistic attributed to an Australian sportsman is David Boon’s 52—that is, cans on the flight to London ahead of the 1989 Ashes series. So revered is the figure that it was once suggested that the Tasmanian speed limit be lowered to 52kmh as a tribute.

Adding to the legend is that the exact details of the 1989 flight have always remained slightly sketchy. Boon himself, writing in his autobiography, insisted that the whole episode never took place. In our quest for the definitive account, Pssst turned to an insider.

Former Victorian Test batsman Dean Jones was on that momentous tour, and, following his father Barney’s advice, sat next to Boon on the plane (the idea being to glean as much advice as possible about what to expect on tours, how to approach county matches and the good oil on English pitches). What he learned was a lesson of a different kind.

“Boonie never set out with the intention of breaking the record, which, from memory, was 46 by Rod Marsh, beating the previous mark of 44 by Doug Walters,” Jones said. “But not long into the flight, the Qantas staff advised us that they’d been keeping count, and Boonie was well on target.”

Jones said that he decided to pull the pin by the time the plane left Singapore, but Boon was settling into a steady rhythm, having just peeled the top off can No. 23 (not including the three he had consumed at Sydney airport). At this point, Jones retired hurt to the upper level of the jumbo, curling up to sleep in a nook behind the seats of chairman of selectors Laurie Sawle and coach Bob Simpson. In his absence, a roster of players—including Carl Rackemann, Merv Hughes, Geoff Marsh and Tom Moody—slipped into the seat beside Boon to offer their support from the non-striker’s end.

Eight hours later, Jones awoke to rousing cheers from downstairs: “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,” Jones said. “Then the captain of the plane got on to the PA system and congratulated Boonie on his fantastic effort of breaking the record.”

Jones remembers Simpson turning purple with anger, at which point Jones chipped in that should Boon be sent home, he would be prepared [to] bat at No. 3. “The flight attendants put the official count at 52, and the best part about it is that the guys were very well behaved throughout.”

He said Marsh and Walters never acknowledged the record, arguing that Boon “had a couple while the plane was on the ground in Singapore. Against that, those other two blokes were carried off the plane, whereas Boonie kind of managed to walk.”

Not as well known is what happened after Boon arrived in London. The Australians immediately headed to their hotel for a press conference, whereupon the Australian media, aware of what had unfolded on the flight, made a pledge not to ask Boon a question, praying that the English hacks would not get wind of a story. Having emerged unscathed, Boon next attended a sponsor’s cocktail party, where he had another three pints, and then “did not wake up for 36 hours and missed two training sessions.” Being Boon’s roommate, Jones was informed by Simpson that “when David waked up he should come and have a quiet chat with me.”

The story has it that the chat was not so quiet, with Boon fined $5000 and lucky to escape being sent home. “Then again,” said Jones, “he went on to make more than 500 runs for the Test series averaging more than 70, and made over 1500 runs for the tour. All in all it was a magnificent achievement.”

[More anecdotes about Australian cricket teams’ drinking exploits on the long flight to England.]

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