Allan 'Alfie' Langer pauses mid-over to drink a jug of beer during the Allan Border testimonial in 1993

Stupid fun celebrity cricket matches were better in the 90s

Nothing that happens in Friday’s big celebrity cricket game will ever be as good as Paul Vautin’s catch in the 1993 Allan Border testimonial, argues Calum Henderson.

This Friday afternoon at Hagley Park in Christchurch, a team of famous cricketers are playing a team of famous rugby players in a game of celebrity T20 that sounds like it should be for charity but isn’t.

I should be over the moon about this. I’ve always wished they would bring back stupid fun televised celebrity cricket matches like the ones I vaguely remember watching as a child. Now that it’s actually happened, my wish has come true, I feel… nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, I will still watch the Hot Spring Spas T20 Christchurch Black Clash in association with Swisse (TVNZ 1 from 4pm). But I will be watching with my arms firmly folded and a permanent scowl on my face, unable to get over what to me seems an irrefutable fact: stupid fun celebrity cricket matches were better in my day.

I know that somewhere out there, a 2019 version of the 7-year-old me is probably really excited about watching this game. They’re wondering what Aaron Smith’s bowling action might look like, and if Jordie Barrett will hit a massive six. I feel like storming up to this hypothetical child, clutching my phone open to a buffering YouTube clip, and screaming “FATTY’S FUCKIN’ CATCH” in their face.

Sorry, sorry. I know you should never do that. It’s just… the world needs to know that no game of celebrity cricket will ever be as good as the 1993 Allan Border testimonial, and that nothing that happens on Friday night will ever be anywhere near as good as Fatty’s fuckin’ catch.

There’s so much to take in here. The catch itself, obviously, is sublime. Watch again and you notice all the other things: the fact it’s Queensland and Broncos league legend Allan ‘Alfie’ Langer bowling, the ridiculous amount of experimental broadcast equipment batsman Tim Horan has been saddled with, or how Paul Vautin’s endearing nickname ‘Fatty’ has been printed on the sleeve of his uniform.

Tony Greig’s commentary elevates the moment even further. You can tell his mind is absolutely scrambled, unable to fully process what he’s just witnessed. Listen to the way he interrupts himself when he realises, incredulously: “we’ll have to include this in the classic catches!”

It wasn’t just Fatty Vautin’s catch that made the Allan Border testimonial the unattainable benchmark for all future celebrity cricket matches. Watch this clip of a wiry gentleman running onto the pitch with a full jug of beer, and Allan Langer pausing mid-over to drink the beer. I could watch this man running with a jug of beer in his hand for hours – how is he not spilling it everywhere?

Ian Healy put a jumper up his shirt and stuck on a fake moustache to impersonate Merv Hughes’ bowling action; Vautin tackled Peter Stirling while he was running between the wickets. Most of the players were wearing microphones or helmet-mounted cameras or both, the kind of cutting-edge broadcast innovations that wouldn’t be seen again for years. One of the players was even – get this – a woman.

The celebrity cricket matches of the 1990s really did have it all, surprising and delighting audiences with things they never thought they’d see during a televised cricket match. Things like a wicketkeeper bowling, or a lady. Listen to how patronising everybody was about Zoe Goss when she got Brian Lara caught behind in a celebrity cricket match in 1996.

This match was a fundraiser for the Bradman Museum, and were it not for Goss’ performance would probably be best remembered for Ernie Dingo taking three wickets. You can tell it was the 1996-1997 season, too, because that’s when the cricket community universally decided it was a good idea to start wearing baseball-style uniforms. Look at the ones they wore in the David Boon testimonial match the same year – the state of it.

1996 was also the year of New Zealand’s greatest televised celebrity cricket match, an exhibition game of Martin Crowe’s Cricket Max, played at a packed-out Cornwall Park. This was pure Cricket Max in its original, undiluted form – four stumps, the lot. Lance Cairns smacked three massive sixes in a row, just like the old days, and Dion Nash struck a helmetless Sir Richard Hadlee with a bouncer.

These were the golden years of stupid fun celebrity cricket matches. The unpredictable carnival atmosphere, the outrageous shenanigans, the level of innovation – this is what the Hot Spring Spas T20 Christchurch Black Clash in association with Swisse has to live up to at Hagley Park on Friday. To the rugby team, and the cricket team, and to whoever’s making money out of this, all I can say is good luck.

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