If you walk into a certain tavern in the border-town of Kington, Herefordshire, you will meet a certain landlady. And that landlady, if you ask, will fetch a certain glass jug, with a certain cricket club’s name emblazoned on it in modest white letters.
This receptacle behind the bar holds far more personal significance than the rather more famous container ensconced 150 miles away in St John’s Wood. My childhood may have been spent following Mike Atherton’s men vainly attempting to prise Australian fingers off the Urn, yet come playing years, the Jug became my Holy Grail, my particular obsession.
It’s time to resurrect the Jug, to raise it to its rightful place at the centre of every club. With falling participation numbers in England, this tradition is undoubtedly the panacea that will cure every ailment of the English game, and usher in a glorious golden age of victory, comradeship, skittles and beer.
Perhaps I slightly overstate the benefits. It remains in my humble opinion, however, a valuable tradition – one peculiarly limited in scope yet nurturing both team spirit and personal development.
Some readers will be nodding sagely in comprehension. Others will be shaking their heads in bemusement. For the benefit of those who have yet to experience the joy of the jug, here is a brief summary. In the same way that scoring a hole-in-one in golf carries the social obligation of buying everyone in the clubhouse a drink, the mystical laws of club cricket mandate that any player taking five wickets or scoring 50 runs is placed under the weighty obligation to purchase a jug of beer for his or her teammates. Woe betide whosoever should neglect this duty.
As a young lad, I had naturally assumed this was a universal practice. This erroneous notion was gradually dispelled as I repeatedly encountered players unacquainted with the idea. It also became apparent that the five-wicket/50-run jug-trigger was not as inflexible as I’d imagined. One Buckinghamshire club included the pouching of three catches as equally binding – presumably causing their wicket-keeper to need cavernous pockets as well as hands. Another club, in Kent, mandated a jug for a diving catch. Virtually any excuse will do.
Strangely, as one ascends (or descends, depending on your point of view) into the professional game, any reference to jugs seems to completely disappear. Christopher Martin-Jenkins mentioned it briefly in his essay, “The Club Game”, but from the lack of references to it during commentary and post-match presentations it would seem the concept is yet to filter upwards. So far is it from public consciousness, even cricket-cognoscenti consciousness, that Rob Smyth during a Guardian over-by-over commentary stint admitted to having “no idea” about an incoming email concerning Steven Finn’s supposed “jug avoidance”.
It also became apparent that the five-wicket/50-run jug-trigger was not as inflexible as I’d imagined. One Buckinghamshire club included the pouching of three catches as equally binding – presumably causing their wicket-keeper to need cavernous pockets as well as hands. Another club, in Kent, mandated a jug for a diving catch. Virtually any excuse will do.
It’s true that several cricketing customs are reversed at lower levels of the game. As a professional, you get paid to play; as an amateur, you pay to play. As a professional, manufacturers pay you to brandish their equipment; as an amateur, you pay for the privilege of using it. As a professional, five wickets might net you a magnum of champagne; as an amateur, five wickets might net you the obligation to pay for the team’s drinks.
Having said that, it’s hard to imagine WG queuing up to the bar for the benefit of his fellows – amateur though he may have been – whereas I dare say most pros are ready enough to buy rounds. As far as jugs are concerned, though, they appear to be not only restricted to amateur spheres, but English ones as well. It is almost impossible to find any trace of a similar tradition in Australia or New Zealand, those cricket cultures most similar to that of England. India? West Indies? South Africa? No famous parallel has leapt to notice.
Jugs remain an English tradition, then, and one whose origins – as with many informal rituals – are murky. We shouldn’t be surprised, though, that it is England that seems to have given birth to the concept. The typical English distaste for self-promotion would work against any idea that the achiever should be further exalted. Contrast this with the spluttering often evidenced in discussions of the hole-in-one tradition: a number of golfers see no reason why they, having performed such a fine feat, should be expected to pay for all the drinks at the clubhouse. In their defence, such an obligation is considerably more costly than in cricket – a full clubhouse ordering expensive drinks could drive the supposedly fortunate player into significant financial hardship, removing all the pleasure of the accomplishment.
That defence has less merit in cricket circles, where a jug of beer – roughly four pints – costs no more than the average round of drinks between friends. Yet sadly, almost as soon as my young self learned of the tradition, it became apparent that some players viewed it as something to escape rather than embrace. Some were known to be intransigent jug-evaders, brazenly ignoring their duty. Others would be less seriously accused if they had scored only 45 or taken just four wickets. This was regarded as “jug avoidance”: not technically an infringement, but rather disappointing.
The crime of “jug evasion”, by contrast, applies to those who have performed a jug-necessitating feat and yet failed to fulfil their responsibilities at the bar. We know who you are. The jug-evading attitude misses the spirit of the tradition – a reminder that the role of the jugger was not to soak up adulation, but to serve his or her teammates. Won the match for us? What are you expecting: a medal? Get the drinks in, there’s a good chap. To turn up, outshine one’s colleagues, and slope off without buying the jug is bad form and a lack of appreciation for the honour of this service. Buying a jug is a rite of passage – an implicit recognition that one is now serving as a useful member of the team.
In my case, regard for the tradition went too far to the other extreme as the jug became an end in itself. I became desperate, psychologically burdened even, to take that five-wicket haul – as someone who could at best be generously described as a bowling all-rounder, this seemed more likely than scoring 50 runs.
Overs, matches, and years went by. Once, I was bowled off the final ball of an innings, only to realise I had been on 47. On another occasion, I discovered the innings had closed with me on 48 not out. The odd four-wicket haul came and went. Another time, I took three in my opening over, but went wicketless for the rest of my spell. Bowlers have it hard: why should five wickets be reckoned equivalent to 50 runs when the achievement is actually on par with scoring 100, even 150?
But much like my bowling, I’ve gone off on a tangent. While I went jug-less, my brother, also a bowler, picked up a five-fer almost by accident. My father, a bowler too, bought a jug most seasons. His difficulties in jug-purchasing were mostly down to the pub not having a jug on the premises, meaning they used standard pint glasses – it’s not the same.
Meanwhile, my jug innings refused to get off the mark. Our team’s jug silently taunted me from the other end of the bar. Until one spring day – on an unremarkable all-weather artificial surface in Kington – I ran through the opposition middle order to end up with 5 for 49, in an unexpected six-wicket win. The jug was ready and waiting in our local: the beer slipped down so much more sweetly.
In an age of growing concern around alcohol consumption, we should probably be content that knowledge of the jug isn’t as widespread as it might be. Shane Warne’s post-match interviews with Michael Clarke’s team moments after the 2015 World Cup final did nothing to counter the popular view of the Australian drinking culture, and little to encourage responsible drinking – a fusty phrase, perhaps, but sadly necessary.
It is understandable that some may consider the jug represents everything that is wrong with the English sporting spirit – an apparent unwillingness to celebrate and reward excellence leading to reduced competition. Don Bradman, no stranger to competitiveness, famously described modesty as essential, and yet “totally compatible with pride, ambition, determination, and competitiveness”.
With the current need to bolster local clubs, it’s the right time to bring the jug back to the fore. Alcohol is purely optional – for those who avoid it or restrict their consumption due to age, religion, health or other reasons a jug of Generic Soft Beverage™ is perfectly acceptable. Excesses should be fairly easy to deal with as well: four pints between 11 is unlikely to give anyone a hangover.
To whomsoever much is given, much shall be required. Celebrate serving your teammates on the field by serving them off the field. Surely, that’s not too hard. Not as hard as taking five wickets.
This article appeared in the tenth issue of The Nightwatchman. You can buy all copies here.