The hunt for a Test-class claret

25 July 2020

9:00 AM

25 July 2020

9:00 AM

In one respect, there has been a reassertion of normality, though this is nothing to do with the virus. Although the recovery was almost sabotaged by young Mr Archer’s bêtise, the problem long antedates Covid-19. But it now seems that once again, the West Indians are a formidable Test side. This is wonderful news, for world cricket has not been the same without them.

Cricket is a game of paradoxes, a symphony of beauty and brutality: a cross between a vicarage tea party and Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon. Facing a fighting bull or the fearsome West Indian fast bowlers of yesteryear — they are both supreme tests of manhood, in which a balletic athleticism has to conquer fear in order to be transfigured into courage.

The current West Indian side still lacks the terror of a Holding, a Marshall, an Ambrose. They do not have an anchor to rival Greenidge and Haynes, or an artist up there with Richards or Lara. But they have a formidable skipper. It was never clear whether Viv Richards was a great captain, because he did not need to be. There were batsmen who would always make runs, bowlers who would always take wickets. Often, his sides did not merely beat their opponents. They crushed them. The conductor of that magniloquent orchestra faced few demands.

Today, it is a different story. The West Indies do not have a single world-class player. England have two: Root and Stokes, with at least three rising stars, plus one recently former world-class bowler, Jimmy Anderson, who is just waiting to prove that he has been written off prematurely. Over the past few years, West Indian sides have often appeared to lack discipline, while their cricketing authorities have not been good at grip. In the field, when the game went against them, the players’ heads tended to go down. There was no appetite for dying in a ditch.

All that has now changed. Jason Holder has taught his players how to graft and hang on grimly. There are parallels with Mike Brearley. Unlike him, Holder is worth his place as a player. But like Brearley, his real contribution is leadership. Under his direction, the Windies will recover the habit of winning. What-ever the outcome of the current series, it has turned into a cracker with, let us hope, a breathless hush of a climax to come.

I have recently enjoyed some lesser experiences: a couple of clarets short of Test class but jolly good in the glass. In their different ways, both are examples of modern French viniculture. Thirty years ago, an insurance company joined forces with Suntory to buy a Cru Bourgeois vineyard from the Haut-Médoc, Château Beaumont. That sounds like an insult to French amour-propre. In reality, it was a gain for French wine-making. The investment has been worthwhile. Beaumont 2010 is a classier drink than its pedigree would lead one to expect. Ready now but still maturing, good tannins without rough edges, and plenty of fruit: Berry Bros, who stock Beaumont, describe it as a quintessential gentleman’s claret. That is an entirely merited description.

Another 2010 came from Château Grand Village, a Bordeaux Superieur. One might have thought that the marketing men would have proposed a more elegant appellation, but at least it is less complex to pronounce than Guinandeau, its owners’ family name. They are better known for Lafleur in Pomerol, a cult wine which combines a tiny hectarage and a stratospheric cost. I await an opportunity to taste it, but Grand Village is a more than acceptable interim bottle. Again, the owners have devoted time, trouble and money. As with Beaumont, the wine is their reward.

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